Yesterday I Learned …


Yesterday, I learned that TIL is an abbreviation for “Today I learned …” Today I learned that in the era of texting and Tweeting, we are abbreviating far too often. I knew that yesterday, but it’s annoying me today.

1) Yesterday, I considered myself intelligent. Today, I learned that I’m not half as smart as I thought I was yesterday. We curious types ask questions and questions can lead to questions, such as, “How is it that you did not know that?” They ask this with that strained smile that suggests they have a haymaker awaiting us. Curious types often wipe the slate clean to learn different perspective, new angles, and nuanced approaches to known procedures. There are also times when we just don’t know. Decades of cultural and societal conditioning train us to avoid asking such questions, for we know the abuse that’s coming from those who know and those who quietly pretend to know so they’re not the subject of such abuse.

2) Yesterday, I learned that kids hate cotton candy as much as I do. Today, I learned that no matter how great it looks, cotton candy is pretty awful. Cotton candy, fairy floss, candy floss, tooth floss, or whatever we call it around the world looks so good on a stick or in a bag. It looks so beautiful in other mouths, but how many of us, kids or adults, make it past the third bite? After watching others tongue their way through the confection and appear to be having one heck of a good time doing it, my son pleaded with me to purchase some for him. “You’re going to hate it,” I told him. “No, I won’t,” he said. Amid the back and forth that ensued, one that mirrored the many arguments I had with my dad, I conceded. I remembered how alluring the confection was for me. My son took one bite. He wouldn’t admit that he hated it, he wouldn’t give me that satisfaction, but he gave it back to me saying, “I can’t eat it.” I was frustrated with him, but as I said, I remember going through all of that myself.  

3) Yesterday, I learned that the Astros cheated by stealing signs, the Patriots cheated by filming the other teams’ practices, and the New Orleans Saints cheated. Today, I found out that no one has accused my favorite teams of cheating. If the other team has such obvious signals that my team can steal them, why aren’t they doing it? If the other team is giving away their game plan in any way, and you’re not taking advantage of any opportunity you can to win, why, the hell, am I still cheering you on?  

4) Yesterday, I learned that some of the times we accidentally buy junk for a kid’s birthday gift. Is it our fault that the toy was a piece of junk? Today, I learned that it depends how long it works. The reveal is the most vital moment for any birthday present. If that kid wants to play with it moments after opening it, and it works for that first hour, we’re in the clear.

5) Yesterday, I learned the need to teach our kids to appreciate gifts they receive. “That isn’t what I wanted,” my kid said after opening a Christmas gift. Most of us learned gift etiquette from our mom when we were young. “You pretend that you love that gift, no matter what,” my mom told me, as her mom probably told her. Today I learned to phrase this in such a way that the child’s rationale might view it as more honest. “You don’t have to talk about whether you like the gift or not. You just say, ‘Oh, thank you so much’ with a bright, shiny smile on your face, and everyone moves on in life.”

6) Yesterday, I learned that there’s nothing more compelling than a well-placed, succinct disclaimer. If I were the owner of a fireworks company, I would test the limits of that theory by placing disclaimers listed all over my creations. I would warn my potential customers that this might be the most dangerous firework ever created. One part of the reason we think we need disclaimers is to protect the consumer, another is to protect the company from lawsuits, but they also serve to generate hype and excitement to those who seek dangerous fireworks. Today, I learned that this principle applies to music, movies, and anything that might lead a parent to warn a child. The more we warn, the more exciting the subject of our warnings will appear to the warned.  

7) Yesterday, I heard someone say, “You’re whole life in anecdotal!” I had no idea what that discussion concerned, but I couldn’t help but think about how that quote could apply in context. Today, I realized that we’re all anecdotal.

8) Yesterday, I learned that some of the times I move out of another person’s way without complaint, regardless if I have the right of way or not. Most people cede space in an open area for another to pass. Some do not. Some walk straight for us, expecting us to cede the space necessary for them to get through, and we can read those signposts as they head our way. When we see them coming, we know it’s better to move out of their way. Some form of compassion often motivates this decision.

9) Yesterday, I learned that, “One of the key components to having an open mind is admitting that you’re wrong,” says the person with whom we disagree.

“That’s probably true in some personal instances,” I argue today, “but you’ll need to show me the person who was richly rewarded for admitting they were wrong, and I’ll take a look at it.”

The first thing a person who wants to have an open mind will do is listen, read, and gather all of the information they can attain to formulate a philosophy. After selecting a philosophical train of thought that aligns with ours, we should continue to gather as many dissenting opinions as we can to challenge that logic. Some people say that an open mind often contains some conflicting opinions. We all have some conflicting opinions, but the best way to limit it is to listen to, and read, as many conflicting opinions as we can find, as often as we can, so that we can philosophically defeat dissenting opinions in our own mind. If we can’t defeat their rationale, we adjust accordingly. If we can, dissenting opinions often strengthen our own. We should also compare our ability to have an open mind versus the person who requires us to have an open mind so that we might agree with them. Their mind is often as closed to dissenting opinions as those they accuse.

10) Yesterday, I learned that too many say that they are so honest that others can’t take their brand of “brutal honesty”. Today, I learned that too few of us use such brutal honesty on ourselves.

11) Yesterday, I learned that there are two types of people in this world. Those who prepare an order before they reach the drive-thru window and those who put their family of eight in park and turn to them, “Now, what does everybody want?” Today, I realized that there is a third type, the person often trapped behind that family of eight.

12) Yesterday, I learned that I think we can tell a lot about a person by the way they drive. I sat behind a person who would not turn until they had a “clear” opening. Today, I realized that I could never be friends with such a person, in part because the man who raised me would not turn unless he could see Wyoming unobstructed.

13) Yesterday, I learned that too many of the most horrific things that ever occurred to us often take less than a minute of our lives. Today, I learned that Americans, on average, live 41,942,880 minutes. Those of us who spent too much time in our life grieving know that it doesn’t help to hear others say that we should just move on, but there is a point when we begin to obsess over it so much that we ruin too many moments in our own lives. No matter what happens in the moments before our death, I can’t help but think that we’ll regret wasting so much time obsessing over death.

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? How many of us gloss over the specifics that make us look bad, how many of us dress up our retorts to make us look better. I met the guy who didn’t do any of that. His testimonial was full of incriminating details, and he left us waiting for a triumphant response. 

“What happened?” we asked after a lengthy pause.

“Nothing happened,” he said. “I didn’t do anything. I’m not a fighter, and I’m guessing those guys were stronger than me.”

This guy was such an anomaly for me that he defined, for me, the other 99.9999% of the population who tells this story. Our rewrites involve the main character of our story reacting to a bully in a manner equivalent to Indiana Jones shooting the Arab swordsman after his intricate displays of prowess with a scimitar. If that agent’s goal was to limit the 99.9999% of 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 our 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 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 99.9999% 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.

Historical Inevitability


The idea that history is cyclical has been put forth by numerous historians, philosophers, and fiction writers, but one Italian philosopher, named Giovanni Battista Vico (1668-1744), wrote that a fall is also an historical inevitability. In his book La Scienza Nuova, Vico suggested that evidence of this can be found by reading history from the vantage point of the cyclical process of the rise-fall-rise, or fall-rise-fall recurrences, as opposed to studying it in a straight line, dictated by the years in which events occurred. By studying history in this manner, Vico suggested, the perspective of one’s sense of modernity is removed and these cycles of historical inevitability are revealed.

To those of us who have been privy to the lofty altitude of the information age, this notion seems impossible to the point of being implausible. If we are willing to cede to the probability of a fall, as it portends to a certain historical inevitability, we should only do so in a manner that suggests that if there were a fall, it would be defined relative to the baseline of our modern advancements. To these people, an asterisk may be necessary in any discussion of cultures rising and falling in historical cycles. This asterisk would require a footnote that suggests that all eras have creators lining the top of their era’s hierarchy, and those that feed upon their creations at the bottom. The headline grabbing accomplishments of these creators might then define an era, in an historical sense, to suggest that the people of that era were advancing, but were the bottom feeders advancing on parallel lines? Or, is it possible that the creators’ accomplishments might, in some way, inhibit their advancement?

“(Chuck Klosterman) suggests that the internet is fundamentally altering the way we intellectually interact with the past because it merges the past and present into one collective intelligence, and that it’s amplifying our confidence in our beliefs by (a) making it seem like we’ve always believed what we believe and (b) giving us an endless supply of evidence in support of whatever we believe. Chuck Klosterman suggests that since we can always find information to prove our points, we lack the humility necessary to prudently assess the world around us. And with technological advances increasing the rate of change, the future will arrive much faster, making the questions he poses more relevant.” –Will Sullivan on Chuck Klosterman

My initial interpretation of this quote was that it sounded like a bunch of gobbeldy gook, until I reread it and plugged the changes of the day into it. The person that works for a small, upstart company pays acute attention to their inbox, for the procedures and methods of operation change by the day. Those of us who have worked for a larger company, on the other hand, know that change is a long, slow, and often grueling process. It’s the difference between changing the direction of a kayak and a battleship. 

The transformational changes we have experienced in technology, in the last ten years, could be said to fill a battleship, occurring with the rapidity of a kayak’s change of direction.  If that is true, how do we adapt to them at such a breakneck pace? Those 40 and older can adapt to change, and we incorporate those changes into our daily lives at a slower pace. Teens and early twenty somethings are quicker and more eager to adapt and incorporate the latest and greatest advancements, regardless the unforeseen, and unintended consequences.

Some have suggested that if the technological changes we have encountered over the last 10 years occurred over the course of 100 years, we might characterize that century as one of rapid change. Is it possible for us to change as quickly, fundamentally, or is there some methodical lag time that we all factor in?

If we change our minds on an issue as quickly as Klosterman suggests, with the aid of our new information resources, are we prudently assessing these changes in a manner that allows us to examine and process unforeseen and unintended consequences before making a change? How does rapid adaption to technological change affect human nature? Does it change as quickly, and does human nature change as a matter of course, or does human nature require a more methodical hand?

These rapid changes, and our adaptation to them, reminds me of the catch phrase mentality. When one hears a particularly catchy, or funny, catchphrase, they begin repeating it. When another asks that person where they first heard that catchphrase, the person that now uses the catchphrase so often now that it has become routine, say they don’t remember where they heard it. Even if they began using it less than a month ago, they believe they’ve always been saying it. They subconsciously adapted to it and altered their memory in such a way that suits them.  

Another way of interpreting this quote is that with all of this information at our fingertips, the immediate information we receive on a topic, in our internet searches, loses value. One could say as much with any research, but in past such research required greater effort on the part of the curious. For today’s consumer of knowledge, just about every piece of information we can imagine is at our fingertips. 

Who is widely considered the primary writer of the Constitution, for example? A simple Google search will produce a name: James Madison. Who was James Madison, and what were his influences in regard to the document called The Constitution? What was the primary purpose of this finely crafted document that assisted in providing Americans near unprecedented freedom from government tyranny, and rights that were nearly unprecedented when coupled with amendments in the Bill of Rights. How much blood and treasure was spent to pave the way for the creation of this document, and how many voices were instrumental in the Convention that crafted and created this influential document?

Being able to punch these questions into a smart phone, and receive the names of those involved can give them a static quality. The names James Madison, Gouvernor Morris, Alexander Hamilton, and all of the other delegates of the Constitutional Convention that shaped, crafted, and created this document could become nothing more than answer to a Google search. Over time, and through repeated searches, a Google searcher could accidentally begin to assign a certain historical inevitability to the accomplishments of these otherwise disembodied answers. The notion being that if these answers aren’t the correct answers, another one could be.

Removing my personal opinion that Madison, Morris, Hamilton, and those at the Constitutional Convention the composed the document, for just a moment, the question has to be asked, could the creation of Americans’ rights and liberties have occurred at any time, with any men or women in the history of our Republic? The only answer, as I see it, involves another question: How many politicians in the history of the world would vote to limit the power they wield, and any future power they might attain through future endeavors? How many current politicians, for example, are likely to vote for their own term-limits? Only politicians who have spent half their life under what they considered tyrannical rule would fashion a document that could result in their own limitations.   

How many great historical achievements, and people, have been lost to this idea of historical inevitability? Was it an historical inevitability that America would gain her freedom from Britain? Was the idea that most first world people would have the right to speak out against their government, vote, and thus have some degree of self-governance inevitable? How many of the freedoms, opportunities, and other aspects of American exceptionalism crafted in the founding documents are now viewed as so inevitable that someone, somewhere would’ve come along and figured out how to make that possible? Furthermore, if one views such actions as inevitable, how much value do they attach to the ideas, and ideals, created by them? If the answers to these questions attain a certain static inevitability, how susceptible are they to condemnation? If an internet searcher has a loose grasp of the comprehensive nature of what these men did, and the import of these ideas on the current era, will it become an historical inevitability that they’re taken away in a manner that might initiate philosopher Vico’s theory on the cyclical inevitability of a fall?

I’ve heard it theorized that for every 600,000 people born, one will be a transcendent genius. I heard this quote secondhand, and the person who said it attributed it to Voltaire, but I’ve never been able to properly source it. The quote does provide a provocative idea, however, that I interpret to mean that the difference between one that achieves the stature of genius on a standardized test, or Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test, and the transcendent genius lies in this area of application. We’ve all met extremely intelligent people in the course of our lives, in other words, and some of us have met others who qualify as geniuses, but how many of them figured out a way to apply that abundant intelligence in a productive manner? This, I believe, is the difference between the 1 in 57 ratio that some have asserted is the genius ratio and the 1 in 600,000 born. The implicit suggestion of this idea is that every dilemma, or tragedy, is waiting for a transcendent genius to come along and fix it. These are all theories of course, but it does beg the question of what happens to the other 599,999 that feed off the ingenious creations and thoughts of transcendent geniuses for too long? It also begs the question that if the Italian philosopher Vico’s theories on the cyclical nature of history hold true, and modern man is susceptible to a great fall, will there be a transcendent genius who is able to fix the dilemmas and tragedies that await the victims of the next great fall? 

A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind


“That’s David Hauser,” my friend Paul responded when I asked about the guy who sat in the corner of the liquor store, the one who appeared to have full-fledged conversations with himself. “He’s crazy, an absolute loon. Went crazy about a year ago. People say he got so smart that he just snapped one day.” Paul snapped his fingers. “Like that!” he said.

I frequented The Family Liquor Store for just this reason: I loved anomalies, and I learned that The Family Liquor Store was a veritable breeding ground for them. In the sheltered life I lived, I knew little to nothing of anomalies. I knew that some people succeeded and others failed, but the failures in Dad’s inner circle were a rung or two lower. I knew nothing of the depths of failure and despair that I would encounter in the liquor store owned by my friend Paul’s parents, where Paul also worked.

Even while immersed in that world of despair, I encountered pride, coping mechanisms, and lies. A customer named John informed me that he once played against Wayne Gretzky in a minor league hockey match, Jay informed me of the time he screamed “Go to Hell JFK!” to the man’s face, and Ronny told me of the various strength contests he won. The fact that I flirted with believing any aspects of these tales informed those in The Family Liquor Store that I was almost as laughable as the fools that told them.

“Why would they lie about things like that?” I asked to top off the joke.

“Wouldn’t you?” they asked when they reached a break in their laughter. “If you lived the life they have.”

The unspoken punchline to this ongoing joke was that I might be more lacking in street smarts than any person they had ever met. The answer to the question that was never asked regarding my standing in their world was that a thorough understanding of their world could be said to be on par with any intellectual study of the great men of the book smarts world, in that they both involve a basic understanding of human nature.

“You see these guys here,” Paul’s father whispered to me on a previous day at The Family Liquor Store, gesturing out to its patrons. “I could introduce you to these men, one by one, and you’d hear varying stories of success and failure, but the one thing you’ll hear in almost every case is the story about how a woman put them down. They all fell for the wrong woman.”

Knowing how this line would stick with me, I turned back to Paul’s father while still in the moment.

“What’s the wrong woman?” I asked. “And what did those women do to these guys?”

“It varies,” he said. “You can’t know. All you can know is that you don’t know, because you’ll be all starry-eyed in the moment. Bring them home to meet your dad, your grandma, and all your friends, and you listen to what they say.”

In the life I spent following that advice, I met a number of fussy guys. Some wouldn’t even look at a woman below an eight, on the relative scale of physical appearance. Others looked for excessive class, intelligence, strength and weakness, and still others were in a perpetual, perhaps unconscious, search for their ma. For me, it’s always been about sanity. I’ve date some beautiful women throughout my life and some strong women who could school me in intelligence. Most of the women I decided to date brought that sassy element I so enjoy, but it’s always came back to the FrootLoopery index for me. I had an inordinate attraction to the mama-that-could-bring-the-drama for much of my life, but when those ultimatums of increased involvement arrived that sage advice from Paul’s father would weaved its way into my calculations. I did not want to end up in an incarnation of my personal visage of hell, otherwise known as The Family Liquor Store, where it appeared a wide variety of bitter, lost souls entered by the droves, but none escaped.

For all of the questions I asked in The Family Liquor Store, there was one question that I dare not ask: Why would a normal family, with normal kids, want to open a liquor store on the corners of failure and despair? I would not ask this question, even as a young man with an insufferable amount of curiosity, because I knew that the answers I received would reveal some uncomfortable truths about the one that answered. One answer I did receive, over time, and in a roundabout way: Surrounding one’s self by failure and despair does make one feel better about our standing in the world by comparison.

“How does one become so smart that they go crazy?” I asked Paul, still staring at David Hauser, the man who was still discussing things with himself

“I don’t know,” Paul said. “They say he had a fantastic job, prestige, and boatloads of money, but he got fired one day, and no one knows why. His wife divorced him when he couldn’t find other work, and he ended up sitting in the corner over there, talking to himself for hours on end, and drinking on his brew.”

Among the possibilities he listed was the idea that a woman might have led to David’s fall. I latched onto that possibility, because it suggested Paul’s father was right. I was satisfied with the answer, but Paul and those who informed him wouldn’t let the too-smart angle go in regard to David Hauser’s condition. They declared that was the, “The nut of it all.”

Speaking to oneself was a common practice of The Family Store patronage. Those who didn’t do so, in fact, stood out. The interesting and unique thing that separated David Hauser from the pack was that he was a good listener in those one-sided conversations, a characteristic that made him an anomaly in a world of anomalies. There were times when David looked to the speaker whom no one else could see, but he reserved those shared glances with the speaker for the introductory portion of the speaker’s conversation. When the purported speaker’s dialogue progressed, David Hauser’s gaze then took on a diagonal slant, and it morphed into an outward glance, followed by an inward one that suggested he was contemplating what the other was saying. At times, David Hauser and the purported speaker said nothing at all.

Prior to David Hauser, I assumed that people who speak to themselves do so to fill a void. In a world of people with no listening skills, most intangible friends are excellent listeners. David Hauser filled that void, but he and his companion created other voids, what some might call seven-second lulls. At times, the lulls in those conversations ended with active-listening prompts on David’s part. This display suggested that the purported speaker ended the lull, and David’s listening prompts encouraged the speaker to continue. At other times, David stopped speaking abruptly, as if someone had interrupted him. Those elements deepened my already deep fascination with David Hauser. I knew the abuse I took for this would be brutal, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to know what this guy was saying.

“I have to know what he’s saying,” I told Paul.

I went on to inform Paul that my curiosity was based on comedic intrigue, but that was a ruse to cover for the fact that my need to know what David Hauser was saying grew into a full-blown obsession to understand something about humanity, something I didn’t think I could learn from my otherwise sheltered life of books. I needed to know if a person as incapacitated, as David Hauser appeared to be, speaks to himself to sort through internal difficulties, and if such an individual recognizes it for what it was on some level, or believe they are talking with someone else.

“For God’s sake,” Paul said. “Why?”

I’m don’t recall what I said at that point, but I know it was an attempt to defuse the situation, so Paul wouldn’t have material on me later, when it came time to mock me for my odd curiosity. I think I said, “I don’t know, I just do.”

I didn’t know what would’ve satisfied my curiosity. I didn’t know if I was searching for listening prompts or seeking the particular words that David Hauser would use to answer my questions. Is there a word that can inform another that a person genuinely believes another person is there? Is there a word, or series of words, that will inform an observer that a person has manifested another person to satisfy a psychological need? The latter was so far beyond my comprehension that I didn’t want to spend too much time thinking about it, but I figured David’s mannerisms, his tone, and the context of his active-listening prompts would somehow form a conclusion for me.

“Be careful,” Paul said.

The two words slipped out as if Paul was repeating a warning he received when he considered further investigation, and he focused his attention on me and said, “Be careful” again.

I was willing to accept these words of caution on the face of what they implied, at first, but my curiosity got the best of me.

“Why?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “What if he says something so intellectual that it gets trapped in your brain and you go insane trying to figure it out?”

“Could that happen?”

“How does a guy go insane by being too smart?”

Perhaps Paul was messing with me and my obsession kept me from seeing the joke, but it was just as probable that he believed it. We were both avid fans of the horror genre, and we were both irrational teenagers who still believed in various superstitions, black magic, curses, elements of dark art, and the supernatural. Our minds were just starting to grasp the complex, inner workings of the adult, real world, but we were still young enough to consider the childlike belief in the possibilities of how reality occurring under an altogether different premise.

Long story short, Paul’s attempts to warn me, followed by his questions, did set me back, and I did try to avoid the subject of David Hauser for a spell. I was not what one would call an intellectual young man. My curiosity was insatiable, and I was an observant sort, but tackling highbrow intellectual theory or highbrow literature was beyond me. I was ill equipped for that, ill-equipped, naïve, and vulnerable to the idea that a thought, like a corruptible woman bent on destroying, could leave a man incapacitated to a point that they frequent a low-rent liquor store for the rest of their days and speak to non-existent people.

I thought of the idea of an intellectual peak in the brief moment that followed Paul’s warning. It seemed like one of those foolish, rhetorical questions I ask that results in ridicule, but I found the question fascinating. If there was an intellectual peak, I figured that hadn’t even come close to mine at that point in my life, but I thought that I should work through the dynamics of it in the event that I ever brushed against that border. Will a person know when they’ve arrived at an intellectual peak? I wondered. Is there a maximum capacity one should be wary of crossing? If they do cross it, do they risk injury, similar to athletes who push themselves beyond the actual limits of their physical ability? I thought of a pole-vaulter, sticking a pole in the ground, attempting a jump he should have reconsidered and the resultant physical injuries that could follow.

When I put those irrational fears aside, other irrational fears replaced those, as I walked over to David Hauser. Paul’s “Be careful” played in my head, along with the realization that prior to building the courage to step near David Hauser my fear of him was speculative in nature. It dawned on me that all I did was brave my fears of an unknown quantity, I had no idea how I would deal with whatever reality lay ahead. His volume lowered a bit, as I neared his sphere of influence. I considered that a coincidence and I progressed, pretending to look at something outside the window behind him. As I neared closer, his volume dropped even more. I didn’t that was a coincidence, but I wasn’t sure. I wondered if he was trying to prevent me from hearing him.

Whatever the case, I couldn’t hear what he was saying, and I was more than a little relieved about that. I felt encouraged by the fact that I had neared him, even though I was afraid. I was wary of getting too close, because I feared the idea of having his overwhelming theories implanted in my brain. I assumed such an implantation might be equivalent to an alien putting a finger on a human head and introducing thoughts so far beyond that brain’s capacity that it could cause the victim to start shaking and drooling, like that kid in The Shining. I considered it plausible that I could wake in a straitjacket with that theory rattling around in my head, searching for answers, until I ended up screaming for a nurse to come in and provide me some relief in the form of unhealthy doses of chlorpromazine to release the pressure in my head.

I later learned that David Hauser achieved a doctorate in some subject, earned from some northeastern Ivy League school. That fact placed him so far above those trapped in this incarnation of hell, known as The Family Liquor Store, that I figured everyone involved needed a way to deal with his story, and everyone did love the story.

I wasn’t there when David Hauser told the story of what happened to him, so I don’t have primary source information of his fall from grace. The secondhand story of this once prominent man of such unimaginable abilities falling to a level of despair and failure was on the tip of the tongue of everyone that heard it. “Like that!” they said, with a snap of their fingers to punctuate the description. Bubbling beneath that surface fascination were unspoken fears, confusion, and concern that if it could happen to a guy “Like that!” it could happen to any of us. In place of traveling through a complex maze of theories and research findings to find the truth, there was an answer. No one knew who came up with it first, and no one questioned if that person knew what they were talking about. We just needed an answer, a coping mechanism.

The fact was that no one knew the undisputed truth of what really happened to David Hauser. We knew some truths, the ones he purportedly revealed, but he didn’t give us an answer, because he likely didn’t have one. My guess was that even if we could’ve convinced David Hauser to sit down in a clinical setting or create some sort of climate that would assure him that no one would use his answers to satisfy a perverse curiosity, we still wouldn’t get answers out of him, because he didn’t have any to offer.

The man who spent most of his life answering the most difficult questions anyone could throw at him reached a block, a wall, or some obstacle that prevented him from finding the one answer that could prove beneficial to his continued existence. His solution, therefore, was to talk it out with a certain, special no one for answers.

That led me to believe that the reason his volume dropped as I neared was a mixture of pain and embarrassment. If David Hauser’s mind was as complex as those in The Family Liquor Store suggested, and it was stuck on a question repeating in his head, to the point of needing to manifest another presence to help him work through it, how embarrassing would it be for such a man to have an eavesdropping teenager, that knew little to nothing about the world, find that answer for him?

I did have an answer for what happened to David Hauser, we all did, but I’m quite sure our answer didn’t come anywhere close to solving the actual question of how a man could fall so far. I’m quite sure it was nothing more than a comfortable alternative developed by us, for us, to try to resolve the complexities of such an intricate question that could’ve driven us insane “Like that!” if we tried to figure it out and it trapped itself in our brain.

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

You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!

… And Then There’s Todd

When Geese Attack!

The Eye of the Fly


In a study published in Journal Science, researchers found that flies have the fastest visual responses in the animal kingdom. The study suggests that this rapid vision may be a result of a mechanical force that generates electrical responses that are sent to the brain much faster, for example, than our eyes, where responses are generated using traditional chemical messengers. The fly’s vision is so fast that it is capable of tracking movements up to five times faster than our eyes.

FruitFly460I realize that the fly would trade this one strength for even twenty-five percent of our brain power, but one has to wonder why the fly was given such an incredible eye compared to our relatively weak one. Why would we be granted the most complex brain in the animal kingdom, and not have the physical advantages inherent in the eye of the fly, the ears of the owl, the various sensory receptors of the snake, or the nose of the bloodhound? Wouldn’t we be able to better use those gifts better than those mindless animals, and insects, that don’t know enough to appreciate it?

The obvious answer, from the Darwin perspective, is that humans don’t need these extra senses for survival, or to avoid predators. The more interesting perspective, I believe, is that having an extra sense would prove such a distraction that it might inhibit the tedious, arduous process of developing the complex human brain.

In every young human child’s development, there is a constant push and pull. Parents and teachers push children to develop habits that they hope will eventually develop that brain as it matures. They know that if that child is going to find any measure of success within the species, he or she will need to be pushed to develop that brain to capacity in a manner that can be painstakingly, gradual. Some would argue that no human ever reaches the maximum capacity of the brain, but it’s not much of a reach to suggest that if we were distracted by a super sense we wouldn’t come as close as we currently do.

It could be argued that there have never been more distractions, pulling children away from the painstakingly, gradual process with promises of instant gratification and the subsequent definitions that result in the child’s peer group. It could also be argued that while there are more distractions now, there have always been distractions, and coaching or teaching children how to avoid distractions has remained constant.

Although there are numerous benefits to a young child engaging in athletics, it could be argued that it is an impediment to the optimal development of the brain. We’ve all known exceptionally gifted athletes. We’ve all seen them receive preferential treatment in classrooms, and we’ve all seen this impede academic achievement. The exceptionally gifted athlete is usually recognized early on, and while there are some attempts at developing a well-rounded character, everyone –especially the child— knows where the focus is.

“Keep your grades up if you want to maintain eligibility,” the adults surrounding the gifted athlete will say, but they rarely coach them to achieve academic excellence, and this is eventually displayed in the post-game interviews of those few elite athletes who have achieved the professional level.

imagesThe same distractions can be found among the beautiful. Both genders learn that beauty is power, but most would acknowledge that the beautiful female has far more power in the room than anyone else, including the beautiful male. Most beautiful females learn, at some point in their lives, that no matter what they do in the classroom, their mental prowess will always be considered secondary to their physical attributes, and that they would be probably be better off if they just sat there and looked beautiful. They subsequently learn to speak less often, so as to silently soak up the power their beauty wields in the room?

Both of these superficial exaggerations could be called distractions in human development, and those who have these physical characteristics learn to employ their own distractions to keep people from focusing on their lack of intellectual development by criticizing those who wasted their time devoting precious resources to developing the brain.

“Did you read Lord of the Rings when you were a kid?”

“No,” the beautiful reply, “I was out getting laid.”

“At fifteen?” the nerdy brainiac asks, “because I read those books at fifteen.”

“Yes,” the beautiful person responds.

“You were getting laid so often that you didn’t have time to read?”

YES!”

That exchange is not a direct quote from the TV show Friends, but it’s close. It encourages the idea that meaningless sex trumps any other activities of youth. “I was out climbing trees, playing football, listening to KISS, and collecting Star Wars cards.” 

“Really, because I was out getting laid.”

Sex between immature individuals should be the goal in life. It is the end game, and the end of the conversation. No one ever thinks to ask, “What did all that sex end up doing for you?”

“Doing for me? What are you talking about? I was having sex when you were reading Tolkein, the comic strips Dondi and Peanuts, and all of those stupid Chose Your Own Adventures you nerds read.” 

“Did you forge the relationships you had with these people in such a way that it helped you have more meaningful experiences that helped shape your life in profound ways in life?” 

“No, I was having sex with them.”

We’re not to question the idea that if we could’ve had more sexual experiences when we were young, we’d be better individuals now, or at least cooler people. Others drop the philosophy that if we had sex more often as young people, we wouldn’t be such a stick in the mud now. Some of us did have such an opportunity when we were nine or ten-year-old, but we turned them down because we were scared, and we weren’t ready. So, if we said yes to that incredibly beautiful sixteen-year-old babysitter, we’d be better people now? 

Due to the fact that so many people laugh at such admissions now, we’ve been conditioned to feel shame, regret, and embarrassment about that fact. We feel shame admitting that, and we regret it almost every day. Why, because we have been conditioned to believe that that exchange of fluids will make us different people. This line of thinking gives credence to the idea that we never truly escape high school. We all wanted to be the cool kids in high school, and no amount of rationale will ever defeat this. Even when we reach our forties, and beyond, and we begin to appreciate our nerdy, reading youth for what it was, we still find it difficult to defeat the superficial, hyper-sexual Friends mentality.

On the flip side, no one would say that reading the Lord of the Rings series is an optimal component of a child’s development, it does put that child on the road to every parent’s holy grail: The love of reading. A goal made all the more difficult by the instant gratification philosophy put forth by the Friends show. It did not, nor will it ever make a person better or cooler person 

For most of us, the opportunities to be sexually active at a young age were there, but some of us were too busy being kids, doing kid’s stuff, and as I wrote, we were simply too scared. When this Friends joke came along and told us that if we were truly cool, we should’ve been doing that all along, we regretted being that nerd that was too scared, enjoyed reading fantasy books, and mindlessly enjoyed our youth. We thought we missed out on something fundamental that made them better than us. In truth, such a philosophy will eventually catch up to them when the one thing that separated them from the pack, sexual activity, becomes more and more meaningless to them as they age. Like a drug user, they might vie for more and more of it for more meaningful sexual interactions, to try to recapture the euphoria they felt when they were virgins touched for the very first time. At some point, after a number of ruined marriages and meaningless encounters, they might realize that their life has amounted to nothing more than a series of superficial indulgences that have amounted to nothing more than a superficial life.

That’s another question I might have for these Friends’ types, if I agreed to have sex with my babysitter when I was nine or ten, would sexual interactions prove less meaningful throughout my life, or would it prove so meaningful that I would develop a sexual addiction? Another question, on the same plane, would sex become such a primary driver for me that the rest of the otherwise normal, youthful activities I experienced between 10 and 18 be rendered comparatively meaningless?   

It is for all these reasons that some of us find it difficult to sit quietly through those sci-fi movies that depict an exceptionally gifted, physical men and women who are also an exceptionally gifted intellect. There is just no way, some of us want to shout. Some of them might be smart, for there are always exceptions to the rule, but not that smart, not exceptionally gifted smart. There’s always a trade-off, especially if they’ve been an exceptionally gifted, physical specimen since birth. They wouldn’t need to go through the painstakingly gradual process of developing an exceptional gift that separated them from the pack. They’re already exceptionally gifted physically, and they have been since birth, and we all know there is always a trade-off in this sense.

This trade-off would eventually rear its ugly head if we had the brains of a human, and the eye of the fly, or the hearing of the owl, or the nose of the bloodhound. Something wouldn’t be honed to maximum capacity, for any of these super senses would likely prove to be too much of a distraction to those easily distracted for those young minds undergoing the painstakingly boring, gradual, and humiliating process of human development, and our place atop the animal kingdom would surely be a little more tentative.