The Thief’s Mentality: The Search for Something Different


How many modern authors grew up trying to write Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and/or John Grisham before we discovered we couldn’t do them as well as they did? How many musicians grew up pretending they were The Beatles, KISS, and Nirvana in their parents’ basement? How many different kinds of books does an author have to read before they arrive at their own unique presentation? How much material does a creator have to produce before the idea of creating something different strikes them?

At some point in our process, we found our voice, but we found it difficult to work that voice into a unique, entertaining presentation. Some of us trudged through these waters until we reached a point where we wanted to create something different, others decided to stop on the trail and add their variation to the influential variation another created.

All artists start out with a master’s template in mind in other words. Another way of describing that template is formula, and if an artist adheres too closely to that master’s formula, they run the risk of becoming formulaic. Another way of describing the term formulaic is derivative, and art connoisseurs generally dismiss such works on that basis. The rest of us love formulas however. We download songs from musicians, who haven’t changed their formula in decades, we buy books from authors who specialize in a very specific formula of taking the reader from point A to point Z, and the TV show or movie that can nail a formula often makes everyone involved rich. We read books that profess that they’re “Like Stephen King”, we watch movies that are “a cross between Pulp Fiction and The Godfather”, and we listen to music that reminds us of all the music we adore. At some point in our enjoyment of a particular formula we reach a point Malcolm Gladwell might describe as a tipping point. This point of burnout is hard to define and difficult to see coming, but at some point we know the formula so well that we know it too well, and all the joy of figuring it out has dissipated, and that’s when the search for something different begins.

We want something different. Avid book readers, in particular, have read so many books that they start to run together after a while. We go to the bookstore (online or otherwise) scouring the racks for something different. We don’t even know what we’re looking for, but we’ll know it when we see it. When we find it, we can’t wait to get home, crack the binding, and enter into another author’s slice of life. Most book lovers enjoy other art forms, but there’s nothing more exciting to us than finding a stimulating, entertaining, and illuminating book. When we think we’ve found a great one, we tell our friends and family, and we call it a “find”. It’s our literary equivalent to an archaeologist digging through some catacombs for an artifact. At some point in our reading, however, we discover our “find” is somewhat formulaic. We trudge through, because of that super-secret part of us enjoys formulas. This is one of the many reasons why authors put pen to paper, for as avid readers we want to write that book we could not find in the various bookstores and libraries. 

One of the primary reasons most authors write a something different more often is that it is extremely hard. Those who haven’t tried it might fall prey to the notion that every revolutionary, transcendent artistic creation is simply a part of the nature of the artist. One might look at a an artist like Leonardo da Vinci, for example, and say he was a transcendent genius, or that he had God-given talent, and leave it at that. Perusing the reviews of Walter Isaacson’s bio on da Vinci on Amazon, one will find a review that states that the book was nothing more than a boring recitation of da Vinci’s process. “What did you expect?” we might ask this reviewer, “you bought a book about an artist.” Before launching into a rant against the reviewer, the artistic types who found Isaacson’s description of da Vinci’s process so compelling realized that non-creatives would find such a boring. In place of this “boring” discussion of attention da Vinci paid to intricate, natural details, however, is the idea that da Vinci was just born with an almost unprecedented ability to paint.      

Creating something different so hard that most creators stop at some point in the discovery process. They decide, instead, to create a story from a master’s template, hoping that their voice will make it unique enough that no one considers it derivative. This isn’t to say that authors of a given genre plagiarize other authors, but when they read one author’s books too often, they cannot hide the influence. The inspired book might even be entertaining and informative, but it does have a disappointing sameness to it. The idea that one book is more entertaining, or more informative, than another is relative to the reader, but the author of The Thief’s Mentality doesn’t know how anyone could use a words derivative or formulaic to describe it.

The author did not write these essays for the sole purpose of producing something different, just to be different, but his biggest influences are those artists who displayed breathtaking originality at one point in their career. No one artist influenced The Thief’s Mentality, and no one piece from any of these artists did either, but at some point in their careers, they made an artistic leap away from what made them the artists we know. These leaps often occurred soon after the artist satisfied their desire to achieve a certain level of acceptance. These artistic creations were so unusual and revolutionary that the artist’s closest friends and family members didn’t see them coming. “I don’t know where that came from,” they confess. “They were on a different level when they created that piece.”

After sorting through the various books in the genre of social sciences, philosophy, and humor and entertainment, we discovered a book of breathtaking originality, David McRaney’s You are Not so Smart. Amid all of the Malcolm Gladwell books, the Freakonomics books, and all of the books influenced by them, You are Not so Smart reached the author on this very personal “Something different” level. It provided a blueprint for how to formulate The Thief’s Mentality. If the fan of that book decides to read this one, they might not find many similarities after all of the work that followed that initial inspiration, but You are Not so Smart appealed to us on such a personal level that we wanted to write our own version of it.

Most artists have a creative imprint they cannot deny. The imprint is such that if their appreciation is pure they will follow the structure laid out by their weird predecessors, but at some point, they diverge from that. Their goal will be to try to create something so individualistic that the odd, revolutionary writers might consider it different. Having said that, The Thief’s Mentality is more of a hybrid of a wide range of disparate thoughts that the author thinks both sides of this particular paradigm might consider representative of the other side.

Even art connoisseurs initially greet breathtakingly original creations with confusion, disappointment and suspicion. “Why didn’t they just stick with what they do best?” we ask. Another question we ask is how can any person, even a critic who gets paid to listen to music, listen to an album one time and know that it is “revolutionary, brilliant, and a tour-de-force!” We all know that critics often receive advanced copies, but they don’t appear to need time to process greatness. Most people need a little time to appreciate works of breathtaking originality and transcendent qualities. Once their brilliance is processed and we lick the carcass clean, we all realize how brilliant their decidedly risky venture was. The artists who had the largest impact on The Thief’s Mentality were often unusual, offbeat individual trailblazers who viewed the world from a very different corner.

It’s almost impossible to escape some influence in any artistic pursuit, but the author suggests that rewriting and editing these essays have drained whatever influence may have inspired him to begin writing them. All but two of the essays contain the unique experiences he’s had with the unique people he encountered in life, so the only probability for influence lies in the analysis, but thanks to hundreds of rewrites, the author doesn’t think the author who influenced the analysis would be able to spot their role in it. Commenting on the originality of the collection, an independent editor said, “It truly is, in my opinion, a bit of a world all its own, something different than what I’ve seen in my editing queue or even in the library where I work part time.”

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That’s Not Dirt


“In my professional opinion,” a plumber said. “I think we’re stuck.” The plumber said that after assuring me that a cranking mechanism on his truck would make “easy work” of snaking the sewer line of my home. He allowed that mechanism to snake the drain for about fifteen minutes. When that didn’t work, he attempted to assist the mechanism manually. He finally turned the mechanism off and attempted to perform the task manually.

I was impressed when the plumber informed me that his mechanism would make this a quick process, for that went against everything I heard. Everyone from the tree experts I talked to, to the plumber that snaked this drain before told me that the silver maple leaf was the worst possible tree a homeowner could have when it comes to plumbing. Our silver maple leaf was about sixty-feet tall, and the previous plumber informed me that that means it probably goes sixty feet down, “and as I’m sure you can guess, a sixty-foot tree does not go straight down. It builds itself a foundation by spreading outwards infiltrating whatever is in its way.” I told this current plumber this, but he insisted that his truck’s cranking mechanism would make easy work of this task.

“Just watch,” he said before flipping the switch on the crank.

The crank on the plumber’s truck did make some progress before we reached that point of being stuck. Evidence of that progress lined my basement in the form of piles of debris on newspapers throughout my basement. The debris consisted of numerous silver maple leaf’s twigs and some dirt that I assumed followed the twigs in the drain.

“Well,” I said, looking down at one of these piles. “It should be easier to work through since all the dirt is wet?”

“You’re kidding, right?” he said looking down at the same mound of debris. “There is some dirt in there, no doubt, but most of that is not dirt.”

I looked at him in confusion for about half a beat, until it dawned on me what he was saying. I colored with embarrassment for a moment. “Wait a second,” I said, “isn’t that what we’re supposed to have in there?”

“Sure,” he conceded, “but it’s not dirt.”

The plumber’s confidence turned out to be false bravado, as evidenced by the fact that the effort he put into trying to clear the drain physically drained him. His hopelessness led him to consider calling a professional colleague at one point, and he considered calling the home office for advice. “I hate to ask you this,” he said, “I’ve never done this before, and I’m sure my colleagues would frown at this, but could you help me?” After I agreed to do just that, he added, “I think the two of us could do this together, don’t you?” He put me on the lead, and he said he would also be pulling from behind. He then added, “I want you to pull as hard as you can, of course, but when I say stop. Stop.”

He asked me to look at him, and he repeated that line to make sure I understood the importance of stopping. I told him I would do as instructed. As I began to pull, however, I began making significant progress. It was obvious, at one point, that I was making more progress than a certified plumber had. I was proud. He was helping me to a point, but when I started making real progress, he stopped pulling from the back and said, “You’re getting it.” That led me to start pulling even harder.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when another fella tells me that I’m displaying feats of strength beyond his own, it invigorates me. When I’m outdoing a professional on his own profession, I try to live up to that compliment and expound upon it. As I sought to expound upon it, the primary source of our concern appeared in the sewer clean out fitting built into the wall of our basement. I was excited, I thought I was accomplishing something huge, but the plumber informed that working it through the fitting was often the hardest part. I had this in mind, coupled with the progress I made, when I began pulling for what I thought would be one last time. It wouldn’t happen on the first couple of pulls, as the entanglement popped up in and out of the fitting on the side of the wall like a ground squirrel taunting its tormentor.

After those first couple of tantalizing pulls failed, I let the snake go slack and regrouped for one final pull. I inhaled and grabbed ahold of snake line, and I put everything I had into one final pull.

“Stop!” the plumber shouted. He was too late.

The mass, that was not dirt, entwined with silver maple leaf twigs, finally made it through the fitting. Its release, combined with the force of my pull, caused me to fall backward until I was flat on my bottom. The result of that fall not only prevented the mass that was not dirt from hitting me, but it put me in a perfect position to watch the mass fly up over my head.

As anyone with a basic understanding of physics can guess, this did not happen in slow motion. It happened so fast that I didn’t see the glop hit the plumber in the face, and I didn’t have enough time to see if the plumber failed to duck in time, or if he accidentally ducked into it. Regardless what his reaction was, some of the glop that was not dirt landed on his nose and eyeglasses.

It took the plumber about two seconds to digest what happened. Once he did, the expletives flew. One of those expletives could adequately describe some of material in the glop that was not dirt, now on his face. He blamed me for not stopping when he told me to, he blamed himself for not calling in a professional colleague to assist him, and he displayed some anger at the world for a moment. Throughout this understandable tirade, the plumber did not wipe the glop from his face. He just stared at me, and with me, in mutual disgust for what just happened.

“This is, by far, the most disgusting thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said after he cooled down a little, “and I’m sure you can guess that this profession has provided me quite a list!” That was a good line, I thought, and I wasn’t sure if he valued good lines as much as I did, but I wondered if he allowed this glop to remain on his face, because he thought his appearance might enhance the comedic value of such a line.

I don’t know what he was thinking, or if I was assigning my values to his reaction, but my guess was his years spent as a plumber raised his tolerance level for that which others consider unspeakably disgusting. What I couldn’t understand, however, was his ability to stand there with that on his face without feeling embarrassed. I also couldn’t understand why wiping this glop off his face wasn’t an instinctual response. Whatever his reasoning, he continued to leave it on his face to deliver one last comedic line, “All I can say, and I never thought I’d be saying this, but I’m glad I need to wear glasses.” 

Dumb Guy’s Disease


“Taken care of me. Mike, you’re my kid brother, and you take care of me? Did you ever think of that. Ever once? Send Fredo off to do this, send Fredo to take care of that… take care of some little unimportant night club here, and there; pick somebody up at the airport. I’m your older brother Mike and I was stepped over! … It ain’t the way I wanted it! I can handle things. I’m smart. Not like everybody says, like dumb. I’m smart and I want respect!” –Fredo from The Godfather II

“What happened?” we ask ourselves. “I thought I was going to be one of the smart ones. I know I was a disinterested student in school, and I probably cared more about partying for far too long in the afterlife (the afterlife being the era of life that occurred immediately after we finished school), but I thought I would’ve gathered enough wisdom by now that someone would consider me wise, but I have to face it. I have a mean case of dumb guy’s disease.”

Dumb guy’s disease doesn’t necessarily mean that the carrier is dumb, but that they are not as smart as they thought they would be at this point. We all know dumb guys, those men and women who by social calculations don’t know enough to enter into the league of intelligence. We never considered ourselves one of them, until someone far more intelligent than us gave us a condescending “you don’t know do you?” smile. We would love to dismiss that look with the notion that they had an agenda, but we know we choked in crunch time, because we didn’t know. When enough of these moments happen, we conclude that we’re not half as bright as we thought we would be at this point in our lives.

To prove ourselves to us, we seek less structured forms of education. We might begin reading better websites and better books, we might watch more documentaries, and listen to a wide array of podcasts. No matter what venue we choose, we will focus our renewed thirst for knowledge on defeating the structured concepts we failed to learn in school. This is our way of putting all those poor grades behind us by rejecting traditional, accepted knowledge as a form of intellectual rebellion.

“Everything they taught you in school is wrong,” is popular click bait for dumb guys hoping to succeed beyond the fools in school who regurgitated accepted facts back to the teacher. We dumb guys learn the truth, but this version of the truth should not be confused with the truth, in most cases, but rather a subjective truth that various authors spend decades writing in various forms and incarnations. This is one of the many attempts dumb guys make to rectify the past.

***

Literary agents and publishers provide prospective clients a preemptive list of ideas for books they will accept and reject for publication. These lists normally include a list of genres the agents and publishers are interested in and some notes regarding what their institution is about for the interested writer. On occasion, they will provide a note to humiliate those who have poured their heart and soul into a book. “I do not want a book that seeks to rectify a past transgression committed against the author,” one agent’s note read. “Please, do not send me an idea for a book that puts your bully in his place, or one that suggests your parents were wrong all along.” This agent was alluding to the idea that anyone who attempts to write such a book is, by his estimation, a hack.

My initial reaction to this note was that a total upheaval of my writing might be necessary if I ever hoped to have a prestigious outlet consider one of my works for publications. It also caused me something of an artistic identity crisis, because I realized that in one way or another most of my stories focused on rectifying my past.

With this comprehensive condemnation in mind, I put everything I read, watched and heard though this agent’s funnel, and I thought, ‘Listen, Mortimer, this is kind of what we do.’ When I write the word we, in the context of describing rewriting the past to rectify it our mind, I don’t find this characteristic to be exclusive to writers. I consider it a comprehensive term that applies to all human beings, artists and otherwise.

When we meet that fella at the water cooler who provides us a testimonial about his days in high school, and how bullies subjected him to cruel and inhumane levels of abuse, we ask ourselves how much of this narrative is 100% factual? He might say that bullies picked on him, a confession that we consider more acceptable in our anti-bully climate, but how many people delve into the specifics of the pain they experienced in those moments? I met the guy who did, and he was such an anomaly for me that he characterized the 99.99% of the population who won’t. For the rest of us, our rewrites involve a main character of our story reacting to our bully in a manner equivalent to Indiana Jones shooting the Arab swordsman after his intricate displays of prowess with a scimitar. If this agent’s goal was to limit the number of authors vying for his services, I suspect this note accomplished that for him, and put the fear in a whole lot more.

Those who attempt to rewrite their past at the water cooler with fellow employees who know nothing of the man’s past, might be lying. When an author writes such a piece in a book, however, they do have a literary license to do so. We call it an artistic license. Now, readers of this site should know by now that I consider nonfiction more compelling than fiction. They should also know that when I encounter an image, a story line, or a turn of a phrase that might make a retelling of an event better, I err on the side of nonfiction. Nonfiction is simply more compelling to me. Even though the artistic license inherent in creative nonfiction allows me some wiggle room, I find hardcore nonfiction more entertaining than the creative spin. 

The second rule concerns fiction, and that is there are no rules regarding truth, as I believe when a reader purchases a fiction book, or reads a short fictional story, they enter into an agreement with the author that it’s likely that none of this is true in any way. I do have one rule with fiction, however, and this might fall under the agent’s note. It is that I do not exaggerate my main character’s prowess to the point that he is an Indiana Jones character with little in the way of vulnerabilities. My main characters do make mistakes, and they are wrong. I don’t do this to follow some elitist agent’s guidelines, I just find flawed characters more interesting. It’s why I’ve always preferred Batman to Superman. The males characters I write about are as flawed as the females. Some might consider the latter a violation of current cultural edicts to the point of being a political statement, but if said flaws are honest and integral to the character, who is being more political the author or those who oppose the idea that an individual might have flaws? Perhaps the agent should’ve included some variation of the word exaggeration. Without that word, the agent is condemning about 95% of the world of fiction.

***

To be considered a successful author, Truman Capote once said, “All an author needs to do is write one great book.” The initial thought, and that which informed much of what Capote said, was that he was saying that all an author has to do to achieve fame is write one great book. Capote, after all, appeared to enjoy the fruits of fame as much, if not more, than any other author did on the back of In Cold Blood. Capote’s brief quote might have also referred to the idea that greater sales result from one great book, for one could say that writing one great book puts an author on the radar, and any books that follow will achieve greater attention on the coattails of that one great book.

The rhetorical question I would’ve asked Capote is one solely concerned with artistic integrity. Such a question might not concern anyone outside the literary world, but I would ask him if an author writes one great book, how many other self-sustaining works can one author create based on his or her experiences in life? How many creative plot lines, varied characters, and philosophical chunks of exposition can one writer develop before treading upon the familiar ground exposed in that one great book? They will try, of course, because the competitive drive of every artist compels them to try to write two self-sustaining books to differentiate them from the well-traveled idea that everyone has one good book in them. On a side note, some cultural critics have argued, “Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”

For those authors who aspire to write two great books, to four, to so much more, be forewarned an astute reader will spot your formula. The author’s formula encapsulates their worldview, the imprint the world has made on them, and that which they hope to leave on their readers. There is also, within the artist, the drive to escape the imprint left on them, but most human beings, artists or otherwise, have a difficult time escaping their philosophical DNA. We are creatures of habit who can’t help giving our bad guy the characteristics that terrified us most in our friend’s dad. We can’t avoid the urge to harm him, or kill him off in the creative ways fictional outlets provide, and we can’t avoid telling him, in all the ways our creative minds have at our disposal, that he isn’t as terrifying to us as he was when we were young.

On that note, writing can be therapeutic. I was well into rewriting my past when it dawned on me how therapeutic it was. My main character would come up with witty retorts that I couldn’t when my bully confronted me. The main character also forces the bully to confront the main character’s attributes. I had a number of plots, subplots, and asides built on this premise, and they were all pretty awful, but they provided seeds for the better material that would follow, and it helped me get over some of the psychological bumps I have experienced in life. It was my formula, and my drive to right the wrongs done to me in life by rewriting my past in such a way that I could live, vicariously, through my main character. I discovered, soon after reading that agent’s post that I could not escape this route, as it was part of my artistic DNA.

The faults of my imprint, as it pertained to what I was writing, dawned on me when an interviewer asked one of my favorite musicians why his lyrics were subpar. (The interviewer’s question was more artful than that, but that was the gist of the question.) “Too many lyricists attempt to write a song, as if it’s a college thesis,” the musician replied. “I just write lyrics that fit the music.”

Dumb guy’s disease involves the author of a book, or song, informing the world that they’re not as dumb as everybody thought they were in school or in the immediate aftermath where the focus of their life was partying. The musician’s quote informed me that when I injected politics and music appreciation into my fiction, I was writing my college thesis to inform my peers in school that I was not as dumb as they thought I was. Some big name fiction authors make political overtures to enlighten their readers, and they attempt to woo us into listening to their favorite groups with forays into music appreciation. I used to write about my main character’s appreciation for my favorite group of the moment, in the manner that one big name author often does. My modus operandi was if he can do it, why can’t I? I realized he could do it because he was a big name in the fiction world, and I wasn’t. I finally realized, under the guise of a dumb guy writing a college thesis, that this big name author didn’t introduce his political, or music, preferences as well as I thought he had when blinded by the awe I had of his big name.

In the years I spent trying to prove I was not a dumb guy, I never heard the notion that intelligence and brilliance could be considered different strains of intellect. (I realize that in the strictest sense of the terms, some might consider another so intelligent, in a structured manner, that they consider them brilliant, but for the sake of argument let’s say that brilliance and intelligence are parallel roads.) The two strains of intellect could be broken down to left-brain versus right brain, as in one type of brain has a natural aptitude for math and science, while the other is more of a creative type. One could also say that the intelligent person knows the machinations of a saxophone that they can fix it and tune it while the other knows how to play it brilliantly, and while both can learn how to accomplish the other’s feat, neither will ever do it as well as the other, for their brains work in decidedly different ways.

This idea applies to dumb guy’s disease, because some creative types do not discover their aptitude for creativity, until the afterlife. (Again, this term refers to the life after school.) We recognize some forms of artistic expression, such as an ability to draw or play an instrument, early on, while an aptitude for creative writing often occurs later in life. The math and science types discover an aptitude for the structured learning, memorization, and problem solving in school, and it puts them in the upper echelon of learners, whereas the young, creative types live outside the bubble, looking in with jealousy. Screaming, as Fredo did in The Godfather II, “I’m smart. Not like everybody says, like dumb. I’m smart and I want respect!”

If I had one piece of advice that I could give myself twenty years prior it would be to try harder to succeed within the system. Do whatever it is you do to the best of your ability and quit thinking you’re above such structured knowledge, or that some subjects are pointless. When I heard someone say that learning Geometry was useless, I loved that line so much that I used it. I also began, perhaps less consciously, began applying to structured learning in general. I would advise myself to drop that whole line of thinking. Studying Geometry might not be useful to a person who seeks a career in Business Management, but it leads a person to use their brain in ways they might not otherwise. Thus, it might pay long term dividends to use your brain in as many ways as you can, while you’re young, to gauge your capabilities. 

I would also ask myself to work harder to acknowledge that there’s nothing special about me. I wasted far too much time thinking I was special, and I turned down a number of opportunities that might have made me special in lieu of what I already thought about myself. I would remind myself that I suffer from my individual strain of dumb guy’s disease and that thinking I was special was the root cause. The idea that you aren’t a better athlete, student and employee, and the resulting frustrations are directly tied to this idea that you think you’re already there or you should be. Remember those times when you failed to achieve in various athletic moments? Remember the temper tantrums you threw? Those moments were partially due to the idea that you wanted to show others you were better than that, but some of it was internal. Some of the frustration was borne of the fact that you weren’t already better, but you never did much, before or after, to get better. You get out in front of yourself at times. You didn’t slow your roll long enough to work within the confines of what you are to succeed within them. If I could advise myself, I would say slow down, realize what you are when you are it, tackle the inane minutiae before you, and prove yourself more than once. Don’t be a one-timer. A one-timer in hockey, involves a player hitting the puck as hard as he can and watching it travel down the ice. In youth soccer, participants kick the ball one time, as hard as they can, and they watch it travel down the field. If the play calls for a long kick, as opposed to the more strategic dribble, kick the ball, and then follow it up. When you achieve good stats in one quarter, don’t consider yourself a stat guy, you have to follow that up establish a long record of achievement.  

If there were an antidote to dumb guy’s disease, I would say it involves an unhealthy dose of self-reflection coupled with a dose of self-actualization. As our grandmother’s told us, there is always going to be someone stronger, more attractive, and smarter. There are always going to be some that have their areas, and we might know little to nothing about that area, but we have our areas too. Unfortunately, when someone backs us into a corner, intellectually, there is a tendency to panic. If we were able to sit back and say, hey, you have your areas and I have mine, we might be able to avoid the fear that we’re not as dumb as we think we are.

What if You’re Wrong?


“You’re wrong,” a friend of mine said. “You’re wrong about me, and the little theories you have about people always end up being wrong. You’re so wrong about so many things, in fact, that I’m beginning to wonder if you might be just plain stupid.”

I don’t care what level of schooling one achieves, or the level of intelligence one gains through experience, such a charge hurts. The subject of such an assessment might attempt to defuse the power of the characterization by examining the accessor’s intelligence level, and the motivations they have for making such a charge, but it inevitably leads to some soul searching.

“How can I be wrong about everything?” I asked after she made the charge. “I might be wrong about some things, but how can I be wrong about everything?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “You just are.”

In the course of licking my wounds, I remembered something my eighth grade teacher told me, after harshly grading a paper I wrote.

I was a disinterested student for much of my schooling years, but I chose that paper to display whatever ability I had at the time. I’m not sure why I chose that particular paper, but I think it had something to do with my desire to prove myself to a teacher that I respected, and I think I wanted to prove something to myself too. Whatever my motivation was, I poured my soul into that assignment, and I couldn’t wait to see the grade I received. I also thought there would be effusive praise to follow.

I was wrong on both counts, and it crushed me. “I worked my tail off on this assignment,” I said with the graded paper in hand.

“It was mealy-mouthed,” she said.

After she explained what mealy-mouthed meant, I informed her, “I did as you asked. You said that we had to be careful to present both sides.”

“You were instructed to provide evidence of the opposing opinion,” she said. “You presented too much evidence,” she said. “The assignment involved taking a position. When I finished your paper, I still wasn’t sure which side you take.”

She concluded the back and forth that followed with ten words that have stuck with me ever since. “If you’re going to be wrong, be wrong with conviction.”

✽✽✽

“Have you ever considered the possibility that you might be wrong?” another person asked me years later.

Some people pose this question so often that those of us that receive it so often, can’t help but wonder about their motivation. Is it a silky, smooth method of stating that they think the speaker is wrong, and so wrong that they might border on stupid? Do they truly think that we’ve never considered the possibility that we could be wrong before, or is it a way of undermining our credibility?

As for the idea that I’ve never considered it before, I want to ask them if they’ve ever met my dad. The second example of a person asking me this question, knew my dad well. He knew my dad questioned everything that came out of my mouth. He also knew that my dad believed I was wrong about everything, and that my dad assumed that I didn’t have the facilities to be an independent thinker. During my younger years, I considered this an insult, but I now understand how difficult it is for a parent to believe that the person they knew as a toddler can arrive at independent thought. Of course, it took a while for me to reach that level of understanding that my dad didn’t introduce me to such a mindset just to lead me to try to prove him wrong, but that was the result nonetheless.

The interesting dynamic in such conversations is that prolonged involvement with such an accuser reveals that they’ve never considered the idea that they could be wrong. Their vantage point is often that of the contrarian, of one who challenges what they consider the status quo, relative to their own life. This mindset does not lead to reflection on one’s own set of beliefs. They focus all of their energy on refuting the speaker’s words and the “Have you ever considered the idea that you might be wrong?” is the best weapon they have in their arsenal.

The ideal method of refuting further questions of this sort is to qualify every statement with a preemptive strike, such as, “I could be wrong but-”. I used to do this, as often as social dictates require, but I found it tedious after a while.

✽✽✽

I could be wrong, but I think any attempt a person makes to describe human nature is going to be fraught with peril. Some will not agree about various descriptions, and many will view the conclusions the author reaches as simplistic, trite, and anecdotal. Some might even view such positions, as so wrong, they could be stupid.

In one regard, I view such assessments with envy, because I don’t understand how one person can unilaterally reject another’s opinion with such certitude. I still don’t, as evidenced by the fact that I still remember my friend’s “You might be stupid” charge more than twenty years later. I assume she summarily dismissed the assessments I made of her, and I doubt she recalls them at all. I assume that she’s as certain now as she was then that she was right and I was not only wrong, but I could be stupid.

Somewhere along the way, I learned that one’s definition of human nature relies on the perspective an individual has gained through their interactions and experiences. If it’s true that definitions of human nature are relative, and that one’s assessments are based on the details of their upbringing, then the only thing anyone can say with any certitude is that the best story an author can tell is that which is listed in their autobiography.

What if I am as wrong as my friends have stated, is a question I must ask. What if my stories don’t even come close to achieving what some might call a comprehensive study of human nature? What if every belief I’ve had over the course of the last twenty years is so off the mark, or so wrong, that they might be stupid? These questions should haunt every writer, artist, and theoretician who attempts to explain the nouns (people, places, and things) that surround them. As for an answer to those plagued by the enormity of trying to explain, the otherwise unexplainable, I suggest that they pare it down to the knowable. An author can only write what they know, and often times what they know is limited to what they hear, learn, and experience firsthand.

Those who know me often say that, in spite of all of my faults, I am a great listener. They also say my curiosity appears genuine. I don’t listen with the aim of developing content, but content is a natural byproduct of a curious mind seeking to learn the details beyond which the person considers their motivations. The trick to arriving at their definition of the truth is to listen and watch these people beyond the initial conversation, until we are experiencing their triumphs and failures vicariously, and we begin processing their autobiographies so thoroughly that they become part of our own. The curious mind must go beyond hearing only what the person telling the story wants us to hear if we are to fortify a thesis, and listen to what these people say.

Some will dismiss some of the stories contained herein as anecdotal evidence of human nature, and in some cases that might be true. To my mind, these tales explain the motivations of the characters involved, and the stories and theories I arrived at that have shaped my definition of human nature, and presumably my autobiography, better than any other stories can.

If there is a grain a truth in the old Chinese proverb, “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which people leave a mark,” then those who preceded the authors have played an integral role in shaping their definitions of human nature. This is not to say that one’s definition of human nature is limited to experience, but when we read theories and see movies that depict questions and answers, we’re apt to be the most interested in those that apply to our own experience. A reader might ask, “Why do these particular stories appeal to your theories?” For that, the only suitable answers I’ve found are, “All theory is autobiography,” and “I’m telling my story, as I heard and responded to others.”

These quotes form the philosophical foundation of these pieces, coupled with an attachment, via a complicated circuitry, to the philosophy that drove Leonardo da Vinci’s numerous accomplishments. I can’t confirm that he said the actual words, but based on what I’ve read about da Vinci, questions informed his process more than answers. As such, I’ve derived the quote: “The answers to that which plagues man can be found in the questions he asks of himself.” Another quote that the reader will want to keep in mind is from playwright Anton Chekov: “It is the role of the storyteller to ask questions, not to answer them.”

It’s entirely possible that the curious reader might find more questions than answers in these pages, and they may not derive anything beyond simple entertainment. For me, the author, each story comprises a central theme, one that I believe relates to my questions about motivation. The goal of each of these pieces was to explain, to one curious mind, human nature, and the answers touch on the questions I have asked people in the interactions I have had, from my small corner of the world. Some of those I’ve interacted with might fall on the fruitloppery index, and some might appear a bit delusional, but most of the characters of these stories appeared so normal, on the surface, that the author thought they might be boring. When these characters began their story, the author asked all the right questions, as evidenced by the fact that they opened up and allowed the author into the darkest recesses of their mind.

While most of the following stories are based on real-life experiences, some readers might still require an “I may be wrong, but …” qualifier, lest they view the author as obnoxiously sure of himself. Those who prefer this should ask themselves a question, how interesting is it when an author qualifies all of their characterizations and conclusions in such a manner. Some authors do this, I know, I’ve read their work. They spend so much of their time dutifully informing their readers that they’re not “obnoxious blowhards” that they end up saying little more. It’s so redundant and tedious that I can’t help thinking that they do so in fear that someone somewhere might tell them they’re wrong. Some might even go so far as to suggest that their experience is so different from the author’s that the author might be stupid. If this is the reason behind the need some authors have for qualifying so many of their conclusions, my advice to them would be to heed the words from my eighth grade teacher, “If you’re going to be wrong, be wrong with conviction.”

Don’t Go Chasing Eel Testicles: A Brief, Select History of Sigmund Freud


We all envy those who knew, at a relatively young age, what they wanted to do for a living. Most of us experience some moments of inspiration that might lead us toward a path, but few of us ever read medical journals, law reviews, or business periodicals during our formative years. Most of the young people I knew preferred an NFL preview guide of some sort, teenage heartthrob magazines, or one of the many other periodicals that offer soft entertainment value. Most of us opted out of reading altogether and chose to play something that involved a ball instead. Life was all about playtime for the kids I grew up around, but there were other, more serious kids, who we wouldn’t meet until we were older. Few of them knew they would become neurosurgeons, but they were so interested in medicine that they devoted huge chunks of their young lives to learning everything their young minds could retain. “How is this even possible?” some of us ask. How could they achieve that level of focus at such a young age, we wonder. Are we even the same species?

At an age when so many minds are so unfocused, they claimed to have tunnel vision. “I didn’t have that level of focus,” some said to correct the record, “not the level of focus to which you are alluding.” They may have diverged from the central focus, but they had more direction than anyone I knew, and that direction put them on the path of doing what they ended up doing, even if it wasn’t as specific as I guessed.

The questions we have about what to do for a living have plagued so many for so long that comedian Paula Poundstone captured it with a well-placed joke, and I apologize, in advance, for the paraphrasing: “Didn’t you hate it when your relatives asked what you wanted to do for a living? Um, Grandpa I’m 5. I haven’t fully grasped the mechanics or the importance of brushing my teeth yet. Those of us of a certain age have now been on both sides of this question. We’ve been asking our nieces and nephews this question for years without detecting the irony. What do you want to do when you grow up? Now that I’ve been asking this question long enough, I’ve finally figured out why we ask it. Our aunts and uncles asked us this question, because they were looking for ideas. I’m in my forties now, and I’m still asking my nieces and nephews these questions. I’m still looking for ideas.”

Pour through the annals of great men and women of history, and that research will reveal legions of late bloomers who didn’t accomplish anything of note until late in life. The researcher will also discover that most of the figures who achieved success in life were just as dumb and carefree as children as the rest of us were, until the seriousness of adulthood directed them to pursue a venture in life that would land them in the annals of history. Some failed more than once in their initial pursuits, until they discovered something that flipped a switch.

Those who know anything about psychology, and many who don’t, are familiar with the name Sigmund Freud. Those who know anything about Freud are aware of his unique theories about the human mind and human development. Those who know anything about his psychosexual theory know we are all repressed sexual beings plagued with unconscious desires to have relations with some mythical Greek king’s mother. What we might not know, because we consider it ancillary to his greater works, is that some of his theories might have originated from Freud’s pursuit of the Holy Grail of nineteenth-century science, the elusive eel testicles.

Although some annals state that an Italian scientist named Carlo Mondini discovered eel testicles in 1777, other periodicals state that the search continued up to and beyond the search of an obscure 19-year-old Austrian’s in 1876.[1] Other research states that the heralded Aristotle conducted his own research on the eel, and his studies resulted in postulations that stated either that the beings came from the “guts of wet soil”, or that they were born “of nothing”.[2] One could guess that these answers resulted from great frustration, since Aristotle was so patient with his deductions in other areas. On the other hand, he also purported that maggots were born organically from a slab of meat. “Others, who conducted their own research, swore that eels were bred of mud, of bodies decaying in the water. One learned bishop informed the Royal Society that eels slithered from the thatched roofs of cottages; Izaak Walton, in The Compleat Angler, reckoned they sprang from the ‘action of sunlight on dewdrops’.”

Before laughing at any of these findings, one must consider the limited resources these researchers had at their disposal, concerning the science of their day. As is oft said with young people, the young Freud might not have had the wisdom yet to know how futile this task would be when a nondescript Austrian zoological research station employed him. It was his first job, he was 19, and it was 1876. He dissected approximately 400 eels, over a period of four weeks, “Amid stench and slime for long hours” as the New York Times described Freud’s working environment. [3] His ambitious goal was to write a breakthrough research paper on an animal’s mating habits, one that had confounded science for centuries. Conceivably, a more seasoned scientist might have considered the task futile much earlier in the process, but an ambitious, young 19-year-old, looking to make a name for himself, was willing to spend long hours slicing and dicing eels, hoping to achieve an answer no one could disprove.

Unfortunate for the young Freud, but perhaps fortunate for the field of psychology, we now know that eels don’t have testicles until they need them. The products of Freud’s studies must not have needed them at the time he studied them, for Freud ended up writing that his total supply of eels were “of the fairer sex.” Freud eventually penned that research paper over time, but it detailed his failure to locate the testicles. Some have said Freud correctly predicted where the testicles should be and that he argued that the eels he received were not mature eels. Freud’s experiments resulted in a failure to find the testicles, and he moved into other areas as a result. The question on the mind of this reader is how profound of an effect did this failure to find eel testicles have on his research into human sexual development?

In our teenage and young adult years, most of us had odd jobs that affected us in a variety of ways, for the rest of our working lives. For most, these jobs were low-paying, manual labor jobs that we slogged through for the sole purpose of getting paid. Few of us pined over anything at that age, least of all a legacy that we hoped might land us in annals of history. Most of us wanted to do well in our entry-level jobs, to bolster our character, but we had no profound feelings of failure if we didn’t. We just moved onto other jobs that we hoped we would find more financially rewarding and fulfilling.

Was Freud’s search for eel testicles the equivalent of an entry-level job, or did he believe in the vocation so much that the failure devastated him? Did he slice the first 100 or so eels open and throw them aside with the belief that they were immature? Was there nothing but female eels around him, as he wrote, or was he beginning to see what had plagued the other scientists for centuries, including the brilliant Aristotle? There had to be a moment, in other words, when Sigmund Freud realized that they couldn’t all be female. He had to know, at some point, that he was missing the same something everyone else missed. He must have spent some sleepless nights struggling to come up with a different tactic. He might have lost his appetite at various points, and he may have shut out the world in his obsession to achieve infamy in marine biology. He sliced and diced over 400 after all. If even some of this is true, even if it only occupied his mind for four weeks of his life, we can feasibly imagine that the futile search for eel testicles affected Sigmund Freud in a profound manner.

 

If Freud Never Existed, Would There Be a Need to Create Him?

 

Every person approaches a topic of study from a subjective angle. It’s human nature. Few of us can view people, places, or things in our lives, with total objectivity. The topic we are least objective about, say some, is ourselves. Some say that we are the central topic of speculation when we theorize about humanity. All theories are autobiographical, in other words, and we pursue such questions in an attempt to understand ourselves better. Bearing that in mind, what was the subjective angle from which Sigmund Freud approached his most famous theory on psychosexual development in humans? Did he bring objectivity to his patients? Could he have been more objective, or did Freud have a blind spot that led him to chase the elusive eel testicles throughout his career in the manner Don Quixote chased windmills?

After his failure, Sigmund Freud would switch his focus to a field of science that would later become psychology. Soon thereafter, patients sought his consultation. We know now that Freud viewed most people’s problems through a sexual lens, but was that lens tinted by the set of testicles he couldn’t find a lifetime ago? Did his inability to locate the eel’s reproductive organs prove so prominent in his studies that he saw them everywhere he went, in the manner that a rare car owner begins to see his car everywhere, soon after driving that it off the lot? Some say that if this is how Freud conducted his sessions, he did so in an unconscious manner, and others say this might have been the basis for his theory on unconscious actions. How different would Freud’s theories on development have been if he found his Holy Grail, and the Holy Grail of science at the time? How different would his life have been? We could also wonder if Freud would have even switched his focus if he found fame as a marine biologist with his findings.

How different would the field of psychology be today if Sigmund Freud remained a marine biologist? Alternatively, if he still made the switch to psychology after achieving fame in marine biology, for being the eel testicle spotter, would he have approached the study of the human development, and the human mind from a less subjective angle? Would his theory on psychosexual development have occurred to him at all? If it didn’t, is it such a fundamental truth that it would’ve occurred to someone else over time, even without Freud’s influence?

We can state, without too much refutation, that Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory has sexualized the beliefs many have about human development, a theory others now consider disproved. How transcendental was that theory, and how much subjective interpretation was involved in it? How much of the subjective interpretation derived from his inability to find the eel testicle fueled it? Put another way, did Freud ever reach a point where he began overcompensating for that initial failure?

Whether it’s an interpretive extension, or a direct reading of Freud’s theory, modern scientific research theorizes that most men want some form of sexual experience with another man’s testicles. This theory, influenced by Freud’s theories, suggests that those that claim they don’t are lying in a latent manner, and the more a man says he doesn’t, the more repressed his homosexual desires are.

The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a sexual orientation law think tank, released a study in April 2011 that stated that 3.6 percent of males in the U.S. population are either openly gay or bisexual.[4] If these findings are even close to correct, this leaves 96.4 percent who are, according to Freud’s theory, closeted homosexuals in some manner. Neither Freud nor anyone else has been able to put even a rough estimate on the percentage of heterosexuals who harbor unconscious, erotic inclinations toward members of the same sex, but the very idea that the theory has achieved worldwide fame leads some to believe there is some truth to it. Analysis of some psychological studies on this subject provides the quotes, “It is possible … Certain figures show that it would indicate … All findings can and should be evaluated by further research.” In other words, no conclusive data and all findings and figures are vague. Some would suggest that these quotes are ambiguous enough that they can be used by those who would have their readers believe that most of the 96.4 percent who express contrarian views are actively suppressing their desire to not just support the view, but to actively involve themselves in that way of life.[5]

Some label Sigmund Freud as history’s most debunked doctor, but his influence on the field of psychology and on the ways society at large views human development and sexuality is indisputable. The greater question, as it pertains specific to Freud’s psychosexual theory, is was Freud a closet homosexual, or was his angle on psychological research affected by his initial failure to find eel testicles? To put it more succinct, which being’s testicles was Freud more obsessed with finding during his lifetime?

 

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eel_life_history

[2]http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/oct/27/the-decline-of-the-eel

[3]http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/25/health/psychology/analyze-these.html

[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_sexual_orientation

[5]http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/assault/roots/freud.html

 

If you enjoyed this unique perspective on Sigmund Freud, you might also enjoy the following:

Charles Bukowski Hates Mickey Mouse

The History of Bloodletting by Mark Twain

The Perfect Imperfections of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis

James Joyce: Incomparable or Incomprehensible?

Rasputin I: Rasputin Rises

When Geese Attack!


Those of us that have watched an episode of Shark Week –or one of the other, all too numerous home movie, reality-oriented clip shows that appear on just about every network now– have witnessed what happens when animals attack humans. Those of us that have watched enough of these videos know the formula. We know that all victims will discover one consistent truth about nature that there are no consistent truths. There are methods to handling animals that those more accustomed to handling animals will relay to an audience to lessen the risk, but even the most experienced handler will state that there are no steadfast rules if a person hopes they can use rules to prevent a wild animal from ever attacking. Those of us that watch these videos often enough also know to expect the survivor state that they have no hard feelings for the beast that attacked them in the testimonials they offer at the conclusion of animal attack videos.

“I don’t blame the animal, and I have no ill will towards it,” they say. “I was in their domain, they were just doing what comes natural to them, and I deserve some of the blame for being there in the first place.”

Some of us just stare at the screen in silent awe. These survivors either are the most wonderful, most forgiving people on the planet, or they’re just plain stupid. These survivors had the threat of having their limbs torn from their body, at the very least, yet they maintain that they are not in the least bit bitter toward the animal. Some of us find this reaction so incomprehensible that we begin to wonder if there isn’t a bit of gamesmanship going on here. We wonder if the networks of these shows test-marketed victims’ reactions, and they have found that the audience will find such violent clips a little less horrific, and thus more entertaining, if the survivor comes out on the other side of the clip with wonderful, forgiving sentiments.

We’ve all had friends that enjoy hearing us say mean things about others, but they will not laugh at a joke made at the expense of another, until they add the, “What an awful thing to say,” qualifier. The qualifier varies with the person, but the need a wonderful person adds to substantiate their characterization before laughing is a constant. On that note, it’s difficult for most individuals to say that they enjoy watching a video of an alligator tear a human apart, unless a qualifier is provided to those that don’t want to feel guilty doing so. “This video,” the after video qualifiers appear to be suggesting, “is nothing more than a study of the brutal realities of nature.” Neither party truly believes this. If some suggest that they do, it’s not the reason that we tune in. Viewers want to experience some schadenfreude by watching a fellow human suffer a wild animal attack, but we need to have a wink and a nod agreement with producers of such content, so they can feed into our primal need for violence with a qualifier that suggests that the viewer is not an awful person for enjoying it. If this isn’t the case, why do almost all of these victims appear to react in almost the exact same manner? It almost appears as though they’re reading from a script. If they’re not reading from a script, we can speculate, the producers don’t air the testimonials that do not provide the show the qualifiers that they need.

We here in hysterical, emotional reaction land, know that it is reasonable to state that a bear is “Just doing what comes naturally to them” after it ripped that poor person apart for the delicious treats they happened to have on them when they happened upon the bear’s domain. We know that part of the victims’ testimonial involves them trying to avoid appearing foolish, as they would if they tried to suggest that they had no idea that a bear might attack might occur after they walked into a bear preserve. Even those of that are skeptical of this whole practice would admit that we would consider that person foolish if they said that, or at least more foolish than a guy that expressed surprise after being attacked by a bear at a Schlotzky’s sandwich shop in Omaha, Nebraska.

We also understand that it’s the goal of those that give testimonials to appear reasonable when they say, “It was just a bear doing what a bear does” when she clenched her jaw on their face and left them looking like the elephant man. We understand that to suggest that the attack was, in anyway, vindictive, personal, or that they were acting in a manner other than instinctual, would make that victim appear foolish. We also know that most animals don’t single people out for attack, and that they prefer to avoid humans, unless conditions dictate otherwise. All of this is perfectly reasonable, even to those of us in hysterical, emotional reaction land, but it discounts the emotional, hysterical reactions one should have if a bear removed one of their limbs, or left their face in a condition that now causes small children to run screaming from them at the mall.

I do not think I’m alone when I state that if a bear ripped me apart to a point that I was on life support, in a coma, or clinging to life for months that I would spend the rest of my hysterical life cheering on bear hunters. Would it be reasonable, seeing as how I was in a bear preserve when the bear attack occurred? It would not be, but most survivors of bear attacks should not be so reasonable that they are now able to hide their new lifelong, irrational fear (see hatred) of bears in the aftermath.

If there is anyone that we might excuse for being bitter, and hateful, it is Charla Nash. Charla Nash was the victim of a chimpanzee attack, in 2009. That chimpanzee was a friend’s pet, a 200-lb chimpanzee named Harold. In the attack, that occurred in a suburban neighborhood, this chimpanzee blinded Charla. He also severed her nose, ears, and hands. She also received severe lacerations on her face. Her life was as ruined as any that have survived an animal attack, but Charla Nash, somehow, remained forgiving. She wasn’t as forgiving as those that offer statements based on what I believe are a reaction to a “Do you want to be on camera? Then say this …” type of stated, or unstated ultimatum. Charla Nash does appear to be forgiving, and that forgiveness appeared genuine.

Charla Nash

“I’ve gotten angry at times,” the Today Show quoted Charla Nash saying. “But you can’t hold anger. It’s unhealthy. It goes through you. You’ve got to enjoy what you have.”

Charla Nash provides a philosophical outlook on life that those of us that have lived without such a horrific moment in our lives can use as inspiration in dealing with our comparative trivialities. Her response to such a vicious attack is nothing short of admirable. It’s a little incomprehensible to most of us, but we still respect Charla Nash for maintaining what appears to be genuinely optimistic about life after such an attack. The “goose guy” is not Charla Nash, however, and he should not be afforded the same admirable plaudits Nash is due. The goose guy is just an idiot.

The goose guy, pro kayak angler Drew Gregory, was fishing in a lake one day when a couple of geese began swimming near him. Drew Gregory decided to feed the geese some of the contents from his backpack. One of the geese, in the competition for the food Gregory was offering them, decided that the best way to beat his competition to the food was to go to the source. The goose, doing what a goose does, attempted to empty Gregory’s backpack, and in the process sent Gregory overboard. After that, the goose appeared to begin laughing at the goose guy. If it wasn’t laughter, the sounds the goose made sounds that one could confuse with an expression of dominance.

The first thing that struck me is why does a guy film himself fishing? I understand that fishing shows date back to an era that precedes me, but I have never understood how it achieved a level of popularity in a visual medium. The next question I have for the goose guy is why did you allow this particular, embarrassing video distribution? Why didn’t you hit the delete button on your phone in the immediate aftermath? If I were involved in this incident, no other set of eyes would ever see this video. I don’t think I would even be able watch it. My pride couldn’t take the hit.

Some have suggested that we are now at a point in human history where human beings will do whatever they need to do for fifteen minutes of fame. If Andy Warhol, the originator of this quote, were still alive, and he saw this video, and learned that the victim, Drew Gregory, distributed it himself, and that Gregory made himself available for aftermath commentary in the TruTV airing of the video, Warhol would smile and say, “Told you!”

It is just a goose, I’m sure most readers will say, and what are the chances that an on average seven-to-eight pound animal could end your life? We can all agree that those chances are remote, but what are the chances that that same animal could do irreparable damage to an eyeball or an ear? What are the chances that a goose could do something that would land a victim in the hospital? I can tell you one thing. I would not be calculating these possibilities in the perilous moment. I’m thinking that some primal, self-preservation tactics would rise to fight my attacker off.

I can also guarantee you that the networks, that run such shows, would deem my video unusable, as I’m sure that videos of goose beheadings don’t test well in the market research these shows probably conduct.

I would also not be that amiable dunce that found a way to laugh about it later. I would not view this moment in my life as entertaining in anyway. I would not qualify it by saying that I was in goose’s environment, and I deserved everything that happened to me. I would see such a moment as one of those survival of the fittest moments. I would think about all these videos I’ve watched, and how the one thing we do know about nature is that it’s unpredictable. I also have to consider the idea that I would not think about any of this, not while in the moment. I have to think that my impulses would override rational thoughts. I would just act. I would just grab this thing by the throat, whisper Hannibal Lecter lines to it, and separate its head from its body. If that bird managed to escape all retribution, and I still had some angle on it, I would grab my kayak oar and drive the bird in a manner that would make fellow lefty, golfer Phil Mickelson, proud.

If the bird managed to escape all retribution, you can bet I wouldn’t be smiling and forgiving in the interview that followed. My, edited for television, version would go something like this,

“I don’t know how your network attained this video, but it has ruined my life. Everyone I know now calls me the goose guy. If I get a hold of that goose, I will find the slowest, most agonizing death possible for it. I’ve already killed twelve geese in this area, thinking that it might be that one that ruined my life, and I’m not sure if I’ve killed this particular goose yet, or not, but I’ll probably end up killing twelve more before I rest.”

After witnessing a Rottweiler attack in person, I find myself relegated to an embarrassing hysterical, emotional land whenever the average, full-grown Rottweiler walks into a room. It’s irrational and emotional, two reactions I strive to avoid in life, but they’re a part of me I cannot control. I’ve lost arguments with those that state that no dog, be they Rottweiler, Pit bull, or otherwise are evil by nature. They cite science, and I cite hysterical emotions based upon experience. I lose. Even as I’m losing these arguments, however I know I’m not the alone with such thoughts. Those that laugh at me, or form thoughts about my inferiority on this subject, inform me that my thoughts are in the minority, but I think our numbers would grow if more people witnessed such vicious attacks firsthand. I’m also quite sure that what I consider normal reactions to attacks, by wild animals, end up on the cutting room floor of these ubiquitous clip shows, for those that need to feel better about their enjoyment of such shows would not appreciate what I have to say, or what I do, in the aftermath of such an attack.

If you enjoyed this piece, you might enjoy the other members of the seven strong:

The Thief’s Mentality

He Used to Have a Mohawk

That’s Me In the Corner (This is not a sequel to Mohawk, but it is another story that occurred in the same wedding.)

A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!

… And Then There’s Todd

 

Finding the Better, Happier Person Through Change


Are you happy? I mean happy. You can tell me. I’m just an anonymous writer. Are you happy? Whisper it to me. You’re not? Well, what are you going to do about it? Are you just going to sit there like a chump while the rest of us are living in the land of sunshine with fortune smiling down upon us? Go out there and get you some happy sistas and brothas!

I used to believe I was close to happy. I thought that I was so close that if my Dad would just loosen the purse strings and purchase this one, solitary item of the moment for me, it would launch me through the entrance of the land of hope and sunshine. I wasn’t running a con game. I believed that if my Dad would just purchase this one pack of Kiss cards for me, it would go a long way to helping me achieve an ideal state.

He told me “No” on more than one occasion (cue the dark and foreboding music), and there were even times when he would follow that ‘No!’ with a big old heaping pile of “Shut up!” (Cue the B roll with the creepy B actor, with bushy eyebrows that point inward, playing my Dad in this segment.)

A part of me believes that the constant “No’s!” I received from him developed into a minor psychosis. Another part of me wonders what kind of man I would be today if he purchased everything I wanted. Would I be a spoiled brat? Would I have some sort of obnoxiousness about me that expected to be able to have everything I wanted –deserved– regardless if I had to go into debt to get it? Would I be one of those ‘I deserve it’ adult babies that permeate the culture? Another part of me knows that I would’ve had to work my through whatever psychosis my Dad chose to inflict on me, and that I would end up in the exact same place I’m in right now.

The point is that almost all of us are on a point on the equator just south of happy. Most of us are not miserable, depressed, or depressed in the sense that we should seek diagnosis. Most of us are just a little unhappy, and a little unsatisfied with the way our lives turned out. We had incompetent parents; we lived in broken homes; we were the subject of bullying in schools; our grades weren’t what they could’ve and should’ve been; and if we were able to do it all over again … we wouldn’t want to go through it all over again.

We are who we are, based upon what we’ve been through. Am I unhappy? No. Could I be happier? What do you got?

Was I unhappy in that temporary sense that every teen is unhappy when their parent tells them no? I’m quite sure that if a casting director spotted me in the dramatic aftermath of one of those denials, they would’ve had their guy call my guy, and “That kid’s got the goods,” is something they might have said.

My dad bought me things. Did those things make me happy? I’m sure they did, but throughout my reflective examinations, I have found those moments to be absent in a conspicuous measure. I’m sure I received some sort of validation from those sparse moments in life, until the next time we went to the department store. The next time we went to a store, I had the same notion of being on the cusp of happiness again, and I believed his decision of whether or not to make a purchase for me would land me in a land of sunshine once again. Until he didn’t make that purchase. At that point, the cyclical drama would begin again. The question is, was I so unhappy in that my definition of happiness was dependent on my dad’s decisions in department stores?

What I thought I was talking about, when I talked to my Dad about making these purchases, was definition. I wanted to be a somebody that had a something that someone else had. I wanted to be a “have” in a world where I felt like a “have not”, and I knew that those “that have” are happier. I was also talking about fulfillment, whether I knew it or not. I was talking about a “quick fix” that would help me live with the self-imposed, teenage, “all hope is lost” problems that I had. I was talking about becoming a real player in a world of people that had products.

How many unhappy people get their Kiss cards and realize that that was it? One simple pack of Kiss cards, that cost about twenty-five cents back then, was all it took. That may have been thirty-five years ago, but I’m happy now. I reached the point, after all these years, of fundamental happiness. I have no wants or desires any more. I am what you could call a fulfilled man.

“And Dad, it was those Kiss cards that you purchased, when I was all but thirteen years of age, that accomplished that for me. I find it hard to believe too, but all I can say is, ‘I told you.’”

Are we happy people in a fundamental sense, or do we define fundamental happiness on the basis of attaining things? If we experience fundamental unhappiness, we may not know what caused it, but we know we need things, and change, and things that change us. We need constant change. Change for definition and redefinition, until we achieve the ideal state of being that we believe is forever beyond our reach, but one solitary purchase away.

Are we so bored with our lives that we need something to provide us a lift out of the tediousness of today, regardless what we did to get a lift yesterday? If we’re unhappy, in a manner we define, how do we achieve constant and fundamental happiness? To what do we resort? How do we define ourselves, and if we make sweeping changes, are we ever happy in the aftermath, or are we in need of more change?

A friend of mine resorted to drastic change. She needed it. She pursued it. She achieved it. The drastic change was so elemental to her makeup that she believed it bisected her personal timeline into a B.C/A.D. demarcation. When I ran into her –after years of separation in which the drastic change occurred– she no longer wanted to discuss the B.C. (before change) life that I knew. That discussion seemed irrelevant to her when compared to the A.D. (after decision) lifestyle that she was now living. She was no longer that person I knew. She changed, and any observer could see that my attempts to relive our past bored her. The topic she wanted our focus on, regarding our discussion of the past, was how I thought all of the various characters therein would’ve reacted to her drastic change … if they had lived long enough to see it.

The question that I would’ve loved to ask her –as if I didn’t already know the answer– is did this fundamental change do anything to help her achieve greater fundamental happiness? The inevitable ‘yes’ would follow. Change is good, change is always good, but more change is better. Once she accomplished these drastic changes, was she able to wipe those memories of a rough upbringing off the slate? Yes she was. Did these changes accomplish everything she hoped they would? Yes they did. These questions would go to the very heart of why she decided to change, and very few would admit that they were an utter waste of time, but the greater question would be was this change so complete that she would no longer need drastic changes in future? I’m quite sure that the next time I run into her, she will have undergone a number of other, drastic changes, now that she’s married a man that can afford them for her.

“Could you achieve the same amount of happiness without those drastic changes?’ I would’ve loved to ask her. “Yes,” I’m sure she would say, “and I did try them. Nothing happened. I needed change.” O.K., but how much effort did you put into taking inventory of everything you have that should have made you happy, versus everything you could have that could make you happy, and how much of you have you lost pursuing these total transformations?

If you run across that rare individual that admits that their transformational changes didn’t accomplish what they thought they would, they will have their remedy all ready for you. They will tell you that they need more change, other changes, and a transformation into something they hadn’t considered before. The point of all these changes is to save them from what they were, or to prevent them from becoming what they might become if they don’t change. At some point in this process, they have too much invested in change, and they cannot turn back.

Are we ever happy? I mean happy! Is happiness a state of mind that will receive internal activation soon after a series of events occur in a very specific way that we define? We’ve suffered damages that leave us damaged, and we can’t fix it on our own. We have flaws, but there is hope. There is always hope. We can change, and those changes can change us. We have the money. We have the technology. We can rebuild it. Better than we were before. Better…stronger…faster…happier. We can make more money, with a better job, a different job. Change. We can have more love…more sex…better sex. We could have an affair, and that could lead to therapy, and a divorce, and more change. At that point, we may need pharmaceuticals, and alcohol. This might lead to use being more concerned about our beauty, and better products and supplements that could lead to more gym time that will lead us to be thinner and happier, until it dawns on us that we a tummy tuck, collagen injections, and more colonics. We’ll need more boob, or better boobs, at some point that will lead us to feel younger, better, and thinner. We’ll have more definition, we’ll be more feminine, or less feminine, and more masculine, and who cares about gender specifics anyway? We’ll live the rock and roll lifestyle. We’ll have more “me” time, but that will lead to some depression. It always does. It will lead us to focus on the fact that we need better appliances, more extravagant trips, and greater self-indulgence, until we get what we deserve. Something different. I’ll try anything once. Changehappinesschange…repeat if necessary.