Patterns and Routines


Why do certain chores feel more time consuming when we do them a different way? If we mow the lawn in a different pattern, chances are it will still take around 45 minutes if everything else remains constant. We thought if we mowed in a different direction, it might shave a couple minutes here and there, but it doesn’t. The perimeter equation of a rectangle remains constant regardless how we do it. Our primary goal was not to shave minutes. It was to do this tedious chore different. We don’t get too far into the mow before it dawns on us that this tedious chore appears to be taking longer. It isn’t, and some part of us knows it isn’t, but we can’t shake the perception. On those occasions when we mowed in our typical pattern, it flew by because we were probably sleepwalking through it. How many typical patterns and routines do we sleepwalk through in this manner? How many times do we wake up with the realization that it’s July, and we forgot to appreciate the beautiful month of June for what it was. How many times do we realize that we’re almost fifty, and we forgot to appreciate our forties for what they were? How much time do we lose following typical patterns and routines?

I saw a bunch of bright yellow bananas in a supermarket bin on Monday, and I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into its brand-new solidity. I thought about that first bite a couple times in the store, and on the short drive home, but by the time Tuesday rolled around, I realized I slipped Monday’s banana into the routine of eating breakfast that Monday. I normally eat two eggs, toast, and I drink a glass of orange juice for breakfast. Then I top it off with a banana. I absently ate that banana as part of my breakfast routine, and I totally missed its freshness. When I bit into Tuesday’s banana, it was delicious, and I tried to appreciate it, but I couldn’t help but think about how much more fresh and delicious that recently purchased banana might’ve been if I remembered to appreciate it.

Most of us hate to admit that our lives have fallen into patterns and routines, but to those who might argue that they’re an exception, I say add a dog to your life. Dogs spend so much of their lives studying our patterns that when they peg them, they can often tell us what we’re about to do before we decide. On that note, my primary takeaway from the movie My Dinner with Andre was that we should try to break routines and patterns whenever we can. If we can break a couple of rituals one on day, we might feel more aware of one Monday before we turn fifty. 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 that exchange was that we have so many patterns and routines that some of the times we accidentally sleep walk through life.

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 the times we 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 that a grueling work out might provide a brief, temporary cure to what ails us.

When too many Mondays melt into Tuesdays without notice, 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 some people say it before I do, to mock me for routinely advising that this is the ideal way to break up routines. The footnote I now add to that routine advice is before we put our mind and bodies through a rigorous workout, we need to make sure we’re happy first. It doesn’t happen after one grueling workout, of course, and it might take a regular routine of three workouts a week, with at least one grueling workout mixed in, but after a while, we might start to become more aware of the choices we’ve made in life. We need to make sure we’ve attended to life’s matters, because the acute awareness grueling workouts provide can make us happier than we’ve ever been, but they can also make us angrier and more depressed. If we have dotted our I’s and crossed out T’s, a grueling workout can cause us to appreciate life a little more than we did yesterday, but it can also lead to some painful critiques.

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 the night before. My various computer chairs were comfortable for years before I decided to discipline myself to working my buns rock hard. I’ve always liked Peanut M&M’s, but after a couple of grueling sessions, I considered the candy so delicious that I thought of eating them by the pound. I also realized how unproductive my job was in the grand scheme, how fraudulent my bosses were, and how I had little to no home life to look forward to once my excruciatingly slow workday ended. The grueling workouts made me more aware of the little things life has to offer, and some of them made me happier, but others made me so angry and depressed that I realized one of the reasons that people drink so much and smoke so often is to dull their brain to a point that they don’t question the choices they’ve made in life.

The mantra of patterns is, “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 addendum to this line of thought is, “if one thing doesn’t work try another.” If you can’t jam a square into a round hole, there’s no sense in making a fool out of yourself by continuing to jam it home. Try something else, or look at the thing and realize that it’s never going home. How many people make fools out of themselves by screaming at the manufacturer of the shapes? We scream to gain distance from our personal failing, “It ain’t me. Don’t look at me. The instructions say do this and that should fix it.” We throw a fiery temper tantrum to distract from the fact that we’re incompetent. 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.”

We’ve all heard the phrase life is short, enjoy every minute you’re alive, because before you know it you’ll be on the other side of fifty thinking about how much life you’ve missed. “I agree with that in principle,” a person in pain told me, “but, at times, life seems to take forever.” No one wants to be in pain, and when the conversation switches to that topic, most people say, “Pull the plug.” I don’t want to face that scenario, but if I do, I believe I might think that I want another 45 minutes of being alive in an otherwise pattern life of too many routines.  Mowing the lawn might be a poor example for this scenario, for no matter how one mows a lawn, the results will always be the same. Unless we push a mower faster, it’s always going to take the same amount of time, and unless we change the levels, it’s always going to mow the same length. Nothing will change in other words, unless we realize that we’re not sleepwalking through it in the manner we normally do. On this particular mow, I thought about how much time we lose by adhering to the routines we develop. I was thinking about writing this piece too, and while writing this piece might not add much to my life, it’s different from anything I’ve written before.

You are Not so Dumb


“You are what we call a processor,” my boss said in a one-on-one meeting. “You study the details of a question before you answer. It might take you more time to arrive at a conclusion, but once you do, you come up with some unique, creative thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with it. We just think differently, and when I say we,” Merri added to soften the blow, “I include myself, for I am a bit of a processor too. So, it takes one to know one.”

Merri added some personal anecdotes to elucidate her point, but the gist of her comment appeared to spring from the fact that she was a quality manager who knew I was struggling under the weight of a quick thinking co-worker that she considered a marvel. I may be speculating here, but I think Merri knew that the best way to get the most out of me was to sit me down and inform me that in my individual manner I was a quality employee too.

That woman just called me slow, I thought as she continued. She may have dressed her analysis up with a bunch of pretty adjectives, but the gist of her analysis is that I was a slow learner. I tried to view the comment objectively, but the sociocultural barometers list a wide array of indicators of intelligence, but foremost among them are speed and quickness. She just informed me that I was the opposite of that, so I considered her analysis the opposite of a compliment.

I also tried to come up with some compelling evidence to defeat her analysis of me. Yet, every anecdote I came up with only proved her point, so I chose to focus on how unfair it was that those of us who analyze situations before us, to the point of over-analyzing, and at times obsessing over them, receive less recognition for the final solutions we find. We receive some praise, of course, when we develop a solution, but it pales in comparison to those who “Boom!” the room with a quick formulation of the facts followed by a quick one. Even on those occasions when my superiors eventually deemed my solution a better one, I didn’t receive as much praise as the person who came up with a quick, quality one in the moment. I don’t know how long Merri spoke, or how long I debated my response internally, but I changed my planned response seven or eight times based on what she was saying. Two things dawned on me before Merri’s silence called for a response. The first was that any complaint I had about the reactions people have to deep, analytical responses as opposed to superficial, quick thoughts, were complaints I had regarding human nature, and the second thought I had was any response I gave her would be a well thought out, thoroughly vetted response that would only feed into her characterization. I figured she might ever respond, “And that’s exactly what I’m talking about.”

Putting those complaints about human nature aside for a moment, Merri’s characterization of my thinking pattern was spot on. It took me a while to appreciate the depth of her comment, and that probably proves her point, but she didn’t really know me well enough to make such a characterization. I think it was a guess on her part that just happened to be more right on than she’ll ever know.

Merri’s characterization gradually evolved my thinking about thinking, and it led me to know a little bit more about knowing than I did before my one-on-one with her. Her comment also led to be a little more aware of how I operated. Before I sat down with her, I knew I thought different. I went through a variety of different methods to pound facts home in my head, but I never considered the totality of what she was saying before.

This was my fault for the most part, but I never met a person who thought about the thinking process in this manner before. They may have dropped general platitudes on thinking, with regard to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles, but no one ever sat me down and said, “You’re not a dumb guy, you just need to learn how you think.”

Merri’s commentary on my thinking process was an epiphany in this regard, for it led to a greater awareness about my sense of awareness, or what psychologists call my metacognition. The first level of knowledge occurs when we receive information, the second regards how we process it in a manner that reaches beyond memorization to application, and the third might be achieving a level of awareness for how we do all of the above.

When she opened my mind’s eye to the concept of processing speeds, I began to see commentary on it everywhere. I witnessed some characterize it as ‘deep thinking’. This might be true in a general sense, but I am inclined to view this as a self-serving term. Slow processors have endured so much abuse over the years that we consider this re-characterization a subtle form of revenge against those who have called us slow. When a person informed me that I might be a deep thinker, I loved it so much that I wanted to repeat it, but I cringed every time I felt the urge, because I think we should leave such characterizations to others. There is an element of truth to it, however, and it arrives soon after a processor begins to believe he’s incompetent, slow, or dumb.

Most reflective processors are former dumb people. Intelligent people may disagree, but if most theories are autobiographical then we must factor my intelligence into the equation. My autobiographical theory goes something like this. I spent my schooling years trying to achieve the perception of a quick thinker, and I failed miserably. When the teacher asked a question, I would raise my hand. My answers were wrong so often that a fellow student said, “Why do you keep raising your hand? You’re always wrong.” I would also hear groans, ridicule, and embarrassment for other incorrect answers in other classes, until I was so intimidated that I didn’t answer questions anymore.

The byproduct of this was that I began considering my answers to the questions more often, until it achieved a cumulative effect on my thinking processes. Before Merri provided my thought process a much-needed title, I assumed I didn’t know enough to know enough. I took this perspective into everyday situations. I didn’t just consider other, more knowledgeable perspectives to resolve my dilemmas I relied on them for answers. The cumulative effect of this approach led me to begin processing information more and more often, until I gathered enough information to achieve some level of knowledge on a given subject.

In my search to find intellectuals who could conceptualize this notion in different ways, I discovered the term ‘down the stairs’ thinking. If a ‘down the stairs’ thinker attends a corporate meeting in which a corporate idea, or concept, is introduced, the supervisor will conclude that meeting by asking if anyone has any questions or input they would like to add. The processor says nothing, because he can’t think of anything while in the moment. The meeting ends, and he walks back to his desk (down the proverbial stairs), when an idea hits him. I write that specific timelines to stay true to the analogy, but my ideas unfortunately do not occur that quickly. I often have to chew on the problem at hand for far too long, and the cliché ‘let me sleep on it’ definitely applies to my thinking type. This dilemma might lead one to ask, if an idea is good enough, who cares when an idea hits as long as it hits? The processor who wants the perception of being quick cares. He wants others to marvel at his intellect in the moment. The seeds of frustration and confusion are borne here, until someone comes along and clarifies the matter for us.

A college professor once praised a take-home, assigned essay I wrote on some required reading. She claimed that the ideas I expressed in that essay were “unique and insightful” and she wrote that she wanted me to participate more in in-class discussions, because she said she thought I could add something to add to them. My wrong answers in high school and the resultant teasing all but beat class participation out of me, but I wanted to live up to her compliments. I did try to participate more often in the college class, the next day, but the experience only reiterated why I shouldn’t be answering questions in class. I was so wrong so often that she gave me a worried look. When we took the final in this class, it involved an in-class essay on another book. This teacher watched me in a manner shop owner might a suspected shoplifter. I think she suspected that I cheated on the take home essay, and she wanted to see if I could provide an equal performance on an in-class essay. I received the same grade on that final, and many of the same comments followed that grade.

She and I both walked away from that experience with the knowledge that no matter how hard one tries to promote it, or affect it, we all think different. There are quick-thinking, reactive brains that can process information quickly and instinctively produce an answer in the manner a knee pops up when a doctor hits it with one of those rubber hammers. Others require some slow roasting, and while it may be embarrassing and frustrating for those who can’t come up with a quick answer, once they learn how they learn, think about how they think, and become more comfortable with the way in which they operate, it can liberate them from the idea that they’re as dumb as they once feared.

The theme of David McRaney’s You are Not so Smart was obviously that we are not as smart as we think we are. The various essays in that book describe why we do the things we do, and how various psychological mechanisms condition us to do the things we do. I loved that book so much that I’ve written probably thirty of my own articles on the theme. This particular article is the antithesis of that book, and its purpose is to provide some relief for the confusion and frustration some have regarding their thinking style. If the information in this article spares one person from the decades of frustration I experienced in this regard, I might even consider this the best article I’ve ever written. I would do so without ego, for I am merely passing information along. If the reader identifies with the characterizations we’ve outlined here, I do have one note of caution: You may never rid yourself of this notion that you’re less intelligent than the firecracker over there in the corner, but if you can come to grips with the manner in which you think, process information, and know it to the point of arriving at an answer without all of the frustration you experience when everyone else is shouting answers out, I think you might be able to achieve some surprising results. You might never reach a point of bragging for I don’t know how they would, but attaining knowledge of self can go a long way to understanding how we operate, and it’s our job to take such information and use it accordingly. 

The Thief’s Mentality: A Brief Synopses of the Essays


1) The Thief’s Mentality

If everyone is immoral then no one is. Kurt Lee introduced us to this concept when he showed us his mower. “He stole that mower,” a mutual friend informed us, sometime later. “Kurt shows it to everyone, but he doesn’t tell them that he stole it?” Why is this relevant? Kurt Lee not only stole most of the artifacts in the overstuffed pawnshop he called a garage he did everything he could to prevent everyone else from stealing them from him. The only reason he felt comfortable showing me his mower was that he had it chained to the wall. That reinforced chain lock was beautiful and shiny and worth about ten times what the mower might fetch from the most generous pawnshop owner might offer for the lawnmower. Yet, Kurt Lee was more concerned with the prospect of someone stealing the mower than he was the quality of the mower he used. When a Kurt Lee introduces us to the idea that we shouldn’t trust anyone outside our own home, we fear that this mentality exposes our sheltered existence. We wonder if he knows more about the world than we ever will. Further examination reveals Kurt Lee’s characteristics that are not as illustrative as we initially fear and more of an inescapable, genealogical trait that leads to a mindset I call The Thief’s Mentality.  

2) He Used to Have a Mohawk

The groom at a wedding I attended used to have a mohawk. The best man and the bridesmaid introduced this information in their toasts. I wondered what the groom thought of these speeches that I knew were delivered with the best intentions. Did he consider them condescending? Did they hurt his feelings? I looked over at him, but he didn’t betray his emotions. My guess was that he enjoyed those characterizations, because he enjoyed the days when he had that mohawk, and he missed them. As we all began laughing, the groom smiled an embarrassed smile. I wondered if he missed the days when he made his audience so uncomfortable that they wouldn’t dare laugh at him.

3) That’s Me in the Corner

A child danced in the introductory part of that wedding reception. He appeared to enjoy it, but he wouldn’t participate in any of the activities that followed that obligatory first dance. When the mother called upon him for increased participation, he waved her off. He wasn’t going to participate beyond the initial dance, yet his subsequent attempts to make a crossover between actual and vicarious participation were noteworthy. He laughed harder than anyone else did from the comfort of a non-participatory chair, he shouted out comments, and he did everything possible to participate from that chair. That’s me in the corner, I thought, that’s me trying to create my own non-participatory spotlight, losing my sense of belonging. I couldn’t explain my unusual need to watch this kid, until it dawned on me later that I thought I might be witnessing an early chapter from my own autobiography. 

4) A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

How does the average person deal with those that experience greater challenges in life? We’ve all experienced victims who have fallen to unimaginable depths, but have we ever encountered a victim who fell from a plane higher than we could ever imagine? How would we explain it? How would we deal with it?

Everyone in The Family Liquor Store knew the story of a man of excessive talent who went crazy “Like That!” they would say with a snap of their fingers. The Family Liquor Store rested on the corners of despair and failure, and David Hauser was their effigy, but no one knew how a man could fall as far as he did. We developed an answer, and it made us all feel better about ourselves to know it.

5) You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore!

The adult baby could not exist if not for his enablers, but his species might not exist if he saw the purpose of his involvement. These two elements result in the carrier finding comfort in mental adolescence. Yet, he finds ways to establish value and importance, even when it adversely affects those around him.

6) Don’t go Chasing Eel Testicles: A Brief, Select History of Sigmund Freud

The field we now know as psychology was not Sigmund Freud’s first career choice. He began as a marine biologist, trying to find what many considered the holy grail of scientific discovery of his time: the elusive testicles of the eel. He didn’t find what other premier scientists of his day could not find, and Don’t go Chasing Eel Testicles asks the question if his failure to find the eel testicles defined the rest of Freud’s career in a manner I’ve never heard anyone ask before.

7) Charles Bukowski Hates Mickey Mouse

The lifelong goal is to be one of the cool kids who all the women want to date. The formula for achieving that goal for much of my life was to be cynical, angry, and a Rage Against the Machine soldier. We hated wholesome, traditional fare that made kids happy, until we grew up and realized the façade that some of our generation’s best writers and comedians created to be cynical, angry, and Rage Against the Machine soldiers. This essay provides the continental divide between provocative theory and reality.

8) Every Girl’s Crazy about a Faint Whiff of Urine

How much time, money, and effort do we spend in our quest to be attractive? How many deodorants, scented shampoos, perfumes, colognes, and body washes do we purchase to mask the natural scent of our bodies, so someone, somewhere might find our scent pleasant? How many hours do we spend spraying, brushing, scrubbing, applying, lathering, and repeating if necessary? Recent surveys report that scent factors very low on our list of priorities when seeking a mate. Why, then, do we spend so much money and effort to present the illusion that we don’t have an unappealing odor?

9) BusyBody Nation

It should have been an uneventful walk in the park on an otherwise uneventful Thursday, but a couple of begrudged busybodies interrupted my otherwise uneventful day. They could not permit my dog to chase a couple of ducks into a lake without making eyebrow-raising threats against me. I decided that the rest of us should push back against the tide of busybodies attempting to restore their definition of order by exposing their begrudged feelings for what they really are.

10) The Balloonophilia Conflict

“There are no absolute truths,” is a defense the wonderful employ.

“That’s a wonderful sentiment,” the speaker will reply, “but if something is true 50.001% of the time, that’s good enough for me to accept it as general rule.”

Making general assessments about nouns (a person, place, or thing) in our culture today, leads the assessor to encounter a wide range of wonderful, emotive defenses. The wonderful defense centers on the idea that all assessments are generalities. My counter to this ever-present defense is that we base all generalities on general rules, and while it is true that there are exceptions to general rules, the exceptions do not nullify the general idea behind a general rule. If a speaker makes the claim that an individual engaged in freakish behavior 99.8% of the time is a freak, the wonderful will often focus on the .2% anecdotal information regarding the fact that that freak is an exception to the general rule the speaker espouses.

“I knew a guy one time who did one thing that suggests your general rule does not apply,” they say.

“Good for him,” we say, “but does that mean the general rule is not true?”

11) Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias

I was watching a movie that never existed wondering why the potential victim just stood there screaming when a monster lowered onto him to bite his head off. Author David McRaney suggests that such a scene is more realistic than we could ever imagine, except for the screaming. Do victims choke in the clutch? McRaney suggests that it goes deeper than that. He says that most of us would probably just stand there, looking up at the monster silently wishing that this event never took place. He says this reaction is an involuntary reaction to unprecedented horror, and it will cost us our lives if we find a way to prepare for such a moment.  

12) The Unfunny 

I’m not funny, and I’m not ugly. This was not a casual observance made by one woman on the way to a minor league hockey match. These characterizations have been corroborated a number of times. So how does a not funny and not ugly man continue the bloodline, especially when they’re telling me that I don’t date as often as I should? 

I knew plenty of not funny and not ugly fellas who were dating, and some of them, like my friend Todd, managed to date some beautiful women. I was not happy. I decided to explore being clever. I found out that clever does not always translate to laughter, but it relies heavily on ingenuity and originality. Some might argue that those two words are synonyms, but I was an original personality who didn’t apply his ingenuity well. “Oh, you’re original,” some of my closest friends have said in various ways over the years, “I’m not sure if it works for you, or how you might make it work for you, but you are original.” The ingenuity portion of our routine occurs in the application process. I knew girls would not claw each other’s eyes out for clever, because they reserved such levels of violence for the pursuit of men who were handsome, or handsome and clever, and I was apparently whittled out of those demographics long ago. I knew I needed a method to meld my unusual and obnoxious nature with my irritating personality that some considered idiotic. I needed to use the comedic stylings of Andy Kaufman as a template.

We dedicate this piece to the unfunny who think they’re funny. We know humor is relative, but we’ve always been able to make our brother and dad laugh, and we say odd things that our grandparents delight in. At some point, truly funny people learn to branch out beyond immediate familiarity to universal material. When we, the unfunny, took our humorous anecdotes out into the world, we ran into a wall. No one knew what we’re talking about, and we wanted to be funny. People like funny. Everyone wants to know what a funny person is going to say next. They enjoy a humorous analysis of the nouns (people, places, and things) that surround them. Some of us have never been able to locate this universal definition of familiarity, and some of us don’t care. We dedicate this piece to us.

13) When Geese Attack

Those of us who love Shark Week and all of the other, all too numerous home movie, reality-oriented clip shows that appear on just about every network now, spotted the formula for their success. The producers of these shows will document some of the most horrific attacks on a human, and then they will air the victims stating they have no hard feelings for the beast that attacked them in the testimonials they offer at the conclusion of animal attack videos. Those of us who tell mean-spirited jokes know this formula too. We know we can tell the most awful jokes about our co-workers, and those who laugh at the jokes will eventually laugh after they dress it up with kind, compassionate statements first. “What an awful thing to say,” they will say before laughing.

14) Anti-Anti-Consumer Art

Walking through an art gallery, the ubiquity of the anti-consumer theme struck me. Every piece of art seemed to focus on the same theme, yet patrons considered each anti-consumer piece unique, bold, and a tour-de-force? One would think that an aspiring young rebel would acknowledge this ubiquitous theme by sticking a middle finger up in the parody the theme has become by producing an anti-anti-consumer theme. Doing so, however, might land the piece the artist works so hard in the dreaded land of anti-anti that some might consider the work pro-consumer and pro-corporate.

15) I’m Disgusting, He’s Disgusting, She’s Disgusting, Wouldn’t You Like to Be Disgusting Too?

Seinfeld might be my favorite sitcom of all time. I found the character’s peculiar demands for hygienic excellence hilarious, until I witnessed two grown men discuss their superiority on the matter and form a friendship on that basis. They both agreed that the common habits of their fellow man were gross, they both agreed that an acquaintance of ours was gross, and they agreed that our employer’s bathroom was an absolute cesspool teeming with germs. I laughed in the middle of this discussion, in the same manner I laughed at the Seinfeld’s obsessive quirks, but these two men weren’t laughing. They had smiles, but they were beaming smiles, the kind of smiles that one gives in recognition of finding a like-minded soul at long last. I realized that by their definition, I was disgusting and I didn’t even know it.

16) Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland

“Do you know what’s in that?” a friend of mine asked as I approached our table with a strawberry shake in hand.

We’ve all heard this line from informed consumers, and we usually hear it when we have our delectable morsel dangling before our mouth. Those who condemn our dietary habits are informed consumers who order yoke free eggs and tofu, with a side of humus, yet they glance at our dangling morsel with some confusing variation of envy.

17) The Expectation of Purchasing Refined Tastes

A friend provided us so many excellent restaurant recommendations that she became our go-to-gal for recommendations. After establishing some credentials with us, she progressed from a foodie to a foodist. When she would detail her preferences, it was obvious how much thought she put into her recommendations, but it was also obvious that she regarded those who didn’t put enough thought in their diet as inferior beings. Our reactions encouraged her to begin branding these people, and those people who wore inferior clothing, those that drank an inferior coffee bean, and those who didn’t know the difference. She knew that most people prefer McDonald’s coffee, but she found comfort in the idea that those people were probably Americans, and they were probably truckers from Iowa. She led me to wonder if her progression was natural, or something endemic in the human need to feel superior about something.

Why do we consider dining at a Thai restaurant superior to a night out at Chucky Cheese? This piece is not about the quality of food at either locale, it’s about the superiority one feels informing another that they ate exotic food at a particular locale. Why is a wine from an exotic, foreign country considered a superior drinking experience when compared to an evening spent drinking a supermarket wine? It’s an experience the informed consumer must have and, and, detail for their friends. Coffee is another experience that people must indulge in for all the fruits of life. As I detail in the piece, blind taste tests judge McDonald’s coffee to be on par with some of the finer coffees available to the public, but it has no value at the water cooler the next day, not when compared to the refined, exotic Kopi Luwak bean. Drink that, and more importantly pay the exorbitant price required for a drink of that, and the crowd at the water cooler will be hanging on your every word. The key word of this piece, just to give a tease, is the word expectation.

18) Eat Your Meat! How Can You Show Appreciation for Life, If you Won’t Eat Your Meat?

I’ve always had some innate disgust for people with certain dietary preferences. I didn’t realize that this disgust was because of my dad’s endless preaching on the topic, until I condemned my nephew for his preferences. I realized that convincing children to show appreciation for food is a time-honored concern that dates back to the cavemen. When the caveman’s children stated how they were tired of eating Mammoth, their mother probably felt compelled to remind them of the sacrifice and danger their father faced to provide them with their meal of the day.

19) Esoteric Man

I found it difficult to evaluate an advertising executive, who was trying to sell my wife on radio ad space, because he dressed like every guy I hated in high school. I knew I was being unfair, but “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” The way things were can complicate the way things are in life, and we cannot escape that fact.

The guy’s checkered pants reminded me of one of my many arch-rivals in high school. The checkers were multi-colored, of course, but some of those colors were pink, and my arch-rivals wore pink. I hated this ad exec. I hated him in the same manner I hated my arch-rivals. The ad exec wore sensible shoes, chic eyeglasses, and he wore his hair in a coif. He was also a people person that knew how to relate to the folks, and I hated him before he said twenty words.

20) Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and Our Existential Existence

What did you think of that guy in high school who loved Wham and Genesis? Do you still think less of him? Our particular, individualistic taste in music defines us, and we define our peers in accordance. Some of us still view those who listen to Led Zeppelin as superior. Why we arrived at that particular notion is an interesting question, but how we arrived at it might be a far more interesting one. If music is the guiding principle for our definition of individuality, the next question is how instrumental were we in determining what music we would spend our lives playing? Most of us remain trapped in the music of our high school and college years, but did we switch the bands or musical genres we listen to during these years, based on what that cool person at the end of our row stated was the best band of all time? We might believe that at some point in our lives, we leave that mercurial teenage mindset behind us, as our high school years become smaller and smaller in our rear view mirror, but some social scholars have stated that we never leave high school.

21) Deserve vs. Earn

What’s the difference between deserving the various gains in life and earning them? To some, the differences are negligible. The philosophical divide is so wide between the two words that some consider the words antonyms. “I didn’t deserve a raise, I earned it.” “No one deserves to win a game, they earn it.” On that note, can a person earn love, or do you deserve it? If the person, in question, is nice to people, and they live their life the right way do they deserve to be loved? Love, after all, is not something one can measure with metrics. It just is what it is. If we deserve to be loved, what kind of love do we deserve?  

22) Unconventional Thinking vs. Conventional Facts 

“Everything your father told you about matters is wrong,” they say. The primary reason lines like these are so seductive is that we want them to be true. We were the dumb guys in class who sat in the back and never knew the answer to the teacher’s question. We were embarrassed by this as adults, and we tried to learn, but there is a temptation to believe that everything the better students learned turned out to be a bunch of rubbish. We were right, in other words, to avoid the  structured learning of traditional knowledge that occurred in school. Various outlets now provide alternative information, based on unconventional thinking, for dumb guys to learn and believe. “Turns out we weren’t as dumb as we thought. Right?” The discussion of alternative theories regarding various loopholes in our legal system and financial system are so seductive that they could be true, or they cannot be proven wrong demonstrably. Some of us learn, over time, that the latter is more important to them than the former. The idea that we might have more information leads us to believe that we are no longer dumb guys, and the idea that a greater quantity of information does not necessarily equal quality information does not enter our purview.   

23) Finding the Better, Happier Person Through Change

We are damaged, because we were damaged in our youth, specifically by our parents. How do we escape that? How do we forge our own frontier. Some say change, others say more change, and still others say change cannot occur without drastic change. When I spoke to my friend, after numerous drastic changes, she didn’t want to discuss our childhood, or our more recent past, she wanted to talk about her drastic changes. When I grew uncomfortable, she acquiesced to a conversation of our shared past, but she only did so under the guise of a discussion regarding what those people from our past might think of her drastic changes. 

She had a rough childhood. She sought a way to escape her past. She didn’t seek spiritual or philosophical change. Her changes were more on the superficial side. Yet, she thought if she could change her packaging, she could change everything. The mistake she made was that she thought we were all as fascinated with her changes as she was. 

24) Are you Superior?

A couple of bandannas, beneath hats turned backwards, and sunglasses pulled me over. They were two dudes. The idea that they were cooler than me was obvious in the first ten seconds. I, like most people, suffer from an inferiority complex but were they superior? I questioned their motives throughout our conversation. Who wouldn’t? Did these two drive up on me just to chat? I was suspicious. Soon our conversation ended, and I watched them drive away realizing that I was such a mess on various topics that I couldn’t even enjoy simple, casual conversations anymore.    

24) Find Your Own Truth

“Find your own truth,” was the advice author Ray Bradbury provided an aspiring, young writer on a radio call-in show.

Most people loathe vague advice. We want answers, we want that perfect answer to help us over the bridge, and a super-secret part of us wants those answers to be easy, but another part of us knows that a person gets what you pay for in that regard. When we listen to a radio show guesting a master craftsman, however, we want him to give us some nugget of information that will explain to us how that man happened to carve out a niche in the overpopulated world of his craft. We want tidbits, words of wisdom about design, and/or habits that we can imitate and emulate, until we reach a point where we don’t have to feel so alone in our structure. Vague advice, and vague platitudes, feels like a waste of our time. Especially when that advice comes so close to a personal core and stops.

25) The Best Piece of Advice I’ve Ever Heard

“You’ll figure it out,” Rodney Dangerfield informed a young, aspiring comedian that sought his counsel on how to succeed in their shared craft.

The first thought that comes to mind when one reads the Dangerfield quote, is that the respected comedian was being dismissive. How does one fix another’s act, art, or pursuit in life? Is there a universal, miracle cure? We don’t know the question that aspiring comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, asked Rodney, as Seinfeld reports it was “something about comedy”. We can guess that aspiring comedians approached Rodney all the time with various questions so many times that he grew tired of it. Thus, we can only guess that when Seinfeld approached Rodney, Rodney said whatever was necessary to have Seinfeld leave him alone. Either that, or Dangerfield found the answer to that question to be so loaded with variables, and so time-consuming, that he didn’t want to go down that road again with, yet, another aspiring comedian. Dangerfield might have even viewed the young comedian’s act, and decided that it was so bad that he didn’t know how to fix it. The “You’ll figure it out” response seems dismissive and overly simplistic, but this essay suggests that if we apply this advice to other matters in life, we consider this best advice we’ve ever heard.  

26) Know Thyself

Bothered by the pesky complaints of philosophy fans wanting them to be more direct in their philosophies, some philosophers believed that the Ancient Greeks granted them a gift in the form of a maxim. Among the many things, the Ancient Greeks offered the world was a simple inscription found at the forecourt of the Ancient Greek’s Temple of Apollo at Delphi, “Know Thyself”.

These two simple words provided, if nothing else, a framework for philosophers. Modern day philosophers might call the discovery, the ancient philosophers’ “Holy Stuff!” moment, a previous generation might call it a “Eureka!” moment, and to all philosophers since, the foundation for all philosophical thought. For modern readers, the discovery may appear vague, and it was, but it was vague in a comprehensive manner from which to build the science of philosophy. It was a discovery that provided the student of philosophy a Rosetta stone for the human mind and human involvement.

Perhaps a modern translation, or update, of the Ancient Greek maxim know thyself may be necessary. Perhaps, ‘keep track of yourself’ might be a better interpretation for those modern readers blessed, or cursed, with so many modern distractions, that keeping track of who they really are has become much more difficult.

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.