Yesterday I learned … II


1) Yesterday, I learned that some love to hug, and they hug so long that it starts to feel weird. We can feel the message they want to convey. We know that they want to tell us that they’re fond of us, that they miss us, and that they want to strengthen the bond we once had, but in the midst of trying to create that moment, some overdo it. ‘Why are we still doing this?’ we ask ourselves while in the embrace. ‘Is this becoming more meaningful to them, or did they lose themselves in the moment? Would it be impolite if I started patting their shoulder here to signify that this is over for me? Why are we still hugging? They didn’t fall asleep did they?’

Today, I learned that a hug is not just a hug. For a greater portion of my life, the hug was largely indigenous to the female gender. We knew males who hugged. We called them “huggers”, as in, “Watch out for that one, he’s a hugger.” At some point, a shift started to happen. Suddenly, men were hugging each other to say hello, to celebrate their favorite team’s touchdown, and to say goodbye. No one knows when this shift started, but I blame the NBA. We teenagers could distance ourselves and mock the huggers we knew, but NBA stars were the essence of cool in the late 80’s-early 90’s. When they hugged, it took an arrow out of our quiver. For these NBA players, a hug was nothing more than a physical form of saying hello. It was a step above a wave or a handshake, but to us, it was a deep and meaningful physical embrace. We didn’t have anything deep and meaningful to convey to our friends. Others did, and they appreciated the NBA influence. They took these “hello” hugs to another level.

“We’re cousins,” huggers would say. “Cousins don’t shake hands. Cousins hug. Get in here bro.” Some of them even embraced us when it hadn’t been that long since our last hug. Their hugs were so deep and meaningful that they thwarted our attempts to break free. Their hugs bordered on combative. “I think the world of you bra.” We non-emotional, non-huggers learned to adapt to the need others have to hug, but we never fully embraced it, and they could feel it. They adapted to our adaptation. “All right, I won’t hug ya’,” they would say, and they stopped, and we sighed in relief, until we were the only ones they didn’t hug. We never wanted back in, but we recognized the strange way abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.

2) Yesterday I learned that “a little after three” can mean 3:23. In what world is 3:23 a little after three? When I hear a little after three, I think 3:01-3:10. Anything after that should be a little more vague, such as “after three”. The next time block, the 3:23 time block, should list at “around three-thirty”. Today, I learned that we become more aware of time constraints and the relative definition of time blocks when a six-year-old is tugging at our sleeve.    

3) Yesterday, I learned that pop culture defines deviancy upward by defining any actions a criminal uses to evade law enforcement as those of a criminal mastermind. True crime authors characterize actions such as wiping fingerprints off door handles as brilliant. When compared to most impulsive, criminal acts, perhaps it’s worth noting when a criminal puts some thought into their criminal activity, but I’m not sure if I would call them brilliant criminal masterminds. If we take a step back from our desire to view them as brilliant, we might see that their methods are relatively mundane, based on information available to anyone with a TV and access to the internet. Today, I learned that criminals don’t want to get caught. They want to be free, and they want to be free to continue to hurt, maim, and kill as many people as they can. The Unabomber, for example, enjoyed the characterization of a secluded genius with a cause, but court documents of his trial reveal that he was “often unconcerned” with his targets. They reveal that he was meticulous about the construction of his bombs, and he went to great lengths to avoid capture, but he didn’t really care who the victim was as long as he maimed or killed someone. He basically wanted to shower in whatever rained down upon him in his elaborate fireworks show.    

4) Yesterday, I learned that criminal masterminds need a cause to justify their actions. They might not be able to justify their actions to anyone but themselves, but they do seek the satisfaction a cause provides. No self-respecting criminal mastermind would say that they did it, because they enjoy hurting, maiming, and killing people. That would diminish their value, their self-esteem, and their historic value. Today I learned that criminal psychologists say that we learn more from their initial crimes than those that follow, because impulses drive those initial crimes. If this is true, we find that most criminal masterminds are petty people who resolve internal and external, disputes in a violent manner. They also have a bloodlust, and as this bloodlust escalates the need for a cause escalates, until they slap a sticker on their actions to satisfy those questions we have about why they did it. It strikes me that everything these criminal masterminds say is window dressing to conceal their simple, primal bloodlust. They want to put a cause on it, because we want the cause. It wouldn’t be very satisfying, or entertaining, if a mass murderer, or serial killer said, “I just had some basic psychological, primal need to hear people scream.” No matter how many causes we assign to people hurting people, the simple truth is that some of us enjoy hurting people, and the rest of us enjoy reading and watching everything we can about it.

5) Yesterday, I learned that bad boys fascinate us. Some of us want to know more about them than otherwise peaceful, normal individuals who accomplish great things. On a corresponding scale, too many of us want to know about the minutiae of the Unabomber’s actions, the motivations, and the aftermath of his terror, and too few of us, by comparison, are as fascinated by the actions and motivations behind Leonardo da Vinci’s artistic output. We label them both brilliant in their own, decidedly different ways, but the Unabomber fascinates us more. Today, I learned that I’m no different. Most of the people who fascinated me in my youth had violent tendencies. Some of my friends in high school, and some of my parents’ friends had violent tendencies on a much lower scale of course, but they fascinated me. I found their ways hilarious and engaging. Is this human nature, or do some elements of our culture encourage this mindset? Most of our favorite critically acclaimed movies have something to do with some low life committing violent acts. When someone found out that I listed the simple, feel good movie Forrest Gump among my favorite movies, they asked, “Why?” with a look of disdain. When I told her that I thought it was a great story, that didn’t help my cause. When I told her all of the others I had one my list that mollified her, but she still couldn’t understand why I would list a feel good movie like Gump among them. Today, I learned that the fascination with violence is universal and cool. 

6) Yesterday, I learned that I’m no longer interested in writing about politics. Today, I realized that I am far more interested in the psychology behind why every day citizens decide to become so political that they’re willing to create a divide between those who think like them and those who don’t.

7) Yesterday, I learned that psychologists state that we have a “God spot” in our brain. Today, I realized that this spot is inherently sensitive to the belief in something, if the rational brain accepts the rationale for doing so. This view suggests that the brain needs belief in a manner similar to the stomach needing food. We seek explanations and answers to that which surround us. Some of us find our answers in God and religion and others believe answers lie in a more secular philosophy, and the politicians who align themselves with our philosophy. They seek a passionate pursuit of all things political, until it becomes their passion, because they need something to believe in.   

8) Yesterday, I learned that there were as many differing opinions about Calvin Coolidge, in his day, as there are our current presidents. Today, I realized that no one cares about the opinions opinion makers had 100 years ago, and few will care about what our current opinion makers write 100 years from now. Some of those writers passionately disagreed with some of Coolidge’s successes, and history exposed some of their ideas as foolish. The historical perspective also makes those who passionately agreed with Coolidge seem boring and redundant. Once a truth emerges, in other words, it doesn’t matter what an opinion maker thought of the legislation at the time. Most opinion writers are less concerned with whether legislation proves effective or not, and more concerned with whether their philosophical views win out. In one hundred years, few will remember if our political, philosophical, or cultural views were correct or not, and even fewer will care. Yet, some of us believe in politics, because politics gives us something to believe in.

9) Yesterday, I learned that Tim Cook is an incredible, conventional CEO of Apple. Former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, was the company’s incredible, unconventional leader, and he helped build the company from scratch. Steve Jobs was a brilliant orator, a showman, a marketer, and a great motivator of talent. If we went to an It’s a Wonderful Life timeline, in which Steve Jobs never existed, Apple wouldn’t exist. I had a 200-word list of superlatives describing Steve Jobs, but I decided to delete it, because it didn’t add any new information we know about the man and what he did. I decided to leave it at those two sentences. Better, superlative descriptions of the man, and what he did, are all over the internet. Walter Isaacson’s book might be the best of them. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created and oversaw a team of talent that created the most innovative company of our most innovative era of America, but Tim Cook has proven to be an incredible steward of that technology. If we flipped the timeline around, and Tim Cook was the first CEO, Apple wouldn’t be the innovator it is today, but I wonder if the less conventional and more mercurial measures Jobs employed would translate to the same consistent levels of growth of Apple we see today under Cook.    

10) Yesterday, I learned that Apple’s stock was ready to fall. Anyone who reads independent analyses from stock market analysts thinks that not only is the smartphone market capped out, but Apple’s position atop this industry is also nearing an end. Reading through some of the analysis of Apple’s projections for their various quarterly reports through the years, we arrive at some common themes. “There’s no way the iPhone (insert number here) can deliver on the projected sales figures Apple is promising,” they write. “Everyone who wants an iPhone already owns one, and numbers show they’re not going to upgrade. Those who don’t want an iPhone are loyal to another brand. The market is saturated, and Apple’s reign is about to end.” Today, I learned these analysts began making such predictions years after Apple began controlling the market between 2008 and 2012. Some of the times they were right, in the sense that Apple missed some quarterly projections, but most of the time they were wrong. Some think that there might be an anti-Apple bias, and there might be, but I think it’s human nature to cheer on the little guy and despise the big guy. I also think analysts/writers want us to read their articles, and the best way they’ve found to do so is to feed into our love of doom and gloom. These stories have a natural appeal to anyone who owns Apple products, Apple shareholders, and everyone else in between, because we love the prospect of the leaning tower. Apple will fall too, for what goes up must come down, particularly in the stock market, but the question of when should apply here. After it falls, one of the doomsayers will say, “I’ve been predicting this would happen for years.”

“Fair enough, but how many times did you make this prediction? How many times were you wrong? How many times did a reader act on your assessment and miss some gains? Nobody asks the doomsayer analysts these questions, because most of us don’t call doomsayers out when they’re wrong. The answer to this question was that on 2/3/2010, Apple stock closed at 28.60 a share, adjusted for dividends and stock splits, per Yahoo Finance. If one of the doomsayer analyst’s customers purchased 35 shares for a total investment of $1,001.00 that investment would be worth $11,170.60 on 2/4/2020. Anyone who invests in the stock market relies on expert analysis to know when to buy and when to sell. We consider the positive assessments and the negative, and some of the times, it takes an iron stomach to read the negative and ignore it. These negative stock analysts had all the information the others had, and yet they consistently predicted Apple would fall, because they knew a negative headline would generate a lot more hits than a positive one.

In our scenario, Apple experiences a significant fall in stock price, and the analyst finally proved prophetic. How many times were they wrong in the interim? It doesn’t matter, because a doomsayer need only be right once, for they can then become the subject of email blasts that state, “The man who correctly predicted Apple’s downfall, now predicts the fall of another behemoth.” The penalties for incorrectly predicting doom and gloom are far less severe than incorrectly predicting good times ahead. The former doesn’t cost you anything except potential gains, which most people inherently blame on themselves, regardless what anyone says. There’s the key, the nut of it all, an analyst can predict doom and gloom all day long, and no one will blame them for trying to warn us, but a positive analysis that is incorrect could cost us money.

The prospect of investing our hard-earned money in something as mercurial as the stock market is frightening. We’ve all heard tales of the various crashes that occur, and we know it will occur again. Most of us need Sherpas to guide us through this dangerous, dark, and wild terrain, and most of them are quite knowledgeable and capable. There are a few who will tell you that it’s so dangerous that you should get out now, and some might even tell us that it’s so dangerous that we shouldn’t even consider making the journey. Those with an iron stomach will tell us that we can get rich working for money, but we can get filthy, stinking rich when our money is working for us.  

Platypus People


They’re platypus people! They’re platypus people! It’s a kookbook!

 

Platypus people do not have a duck’s bill or an otter’s body, but in many ways they are as foreign to us as their Australian counterparts were to the scientific community in England, in the late 18th century. We’ve all met weird, strange, and just plain different people, but the platypus people seem to be operating from a different premise. “Who thinks like this?” we ask ourselves. “Doesn’t he have cable?” a friend asked back when more people did. We might not even know that we all share a premise, until we hear one of these platypus people say something that suggests they’re operating from an altogether different premise. When it happens, it can be shocking.

It’s almost as shocking to us as the introduction of platypus was to Britain’s scientific community. They were so rocked by the semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammal that they thought it was an elaborate and well-conceived hoax. They thought they had a comprehensive catalog of the animal kingdom prior to the introduction of the platypus, and we empathize, for when we met our first platypus person, we thought we had a decent grasp of human nature.

When we first heard them, we thought someone glued a proverbial bill of a duck on an otter’s body to try to pass him off as a new species when we heard what he thought of the world. We did not physically dissect him to find the truth, in the manner the skeptical Brits did when they first encountered the platypus, to search for the taxidermist’s stitching. We did probe, however, and we came away thinking he was genuine, unlike those Brits who remained skeptical even after seeing a live platypus, but we had no idea how to process his thoughts.

As with the Brits and the platypus, the more we learned more about the platypus person, the more that shock turned to intrigue as we began to think that his fun-house mirror perspective might tweak how we thought of ourselves.

How does one arrive at such unusual thoughts? Most of us travel through a wide variety of thoughts on the road to formulating a philosophy. We crave cutting edge, unusual thoughts that result in weird, strange, or just plain different impressions to form a passionate belief system. We weed out most of those thoughts as we age, but some of them stick. Some of them stick, because we crave ideas from free-thinking, independent spirits. There are some provocative, well thought out points, but most of them are contrived attempts to be weird, some disagree just to disagree, and others follow the edicts of cool overlords to become one. When viewing this through that looking glass we see that if we’re all free-thinking, independent spirits, then none of us are, and the channel their unique perspective opens affects us in a manner that motivates us to learn everything we can about their philosophy before we reach some level of a final formulation. We want to taste every piece of pie available to us before we reach the end of the buffet.

When we hear someone who appeared to go through some of the same intellectual progressions as we did, arrive at an entirely different conclusion, we want to know how that happened. We want to know everything about their philosophy on matters and how it applies to their epistemology, and we want to know the anthropological origins of their thought process. We might not agree with anything they say, and by the time they’re finished, we might realize that the specific subjects they discuss don’t matter either. We’re so fascinated with their process that we listen to them with some excitement, as we think their story, or the sedimentary layers of their story, could affect our own.

All of these reactions to the platitudes of platypus people are subjective, but within these subjective reactions are autobiographical attempts to understand ourselves better, and whether we are going to eventually agree with it or attempt to nuke their theories, we want to know how to process what they are saying.

I thought everyone went through the same cyclical reactions to the platypus person’s provocative statements, until one of my friends said, “Doesn’t he have cable?” This joker said this to dismiss the platypus person. The joker and I disagreed on just about everything two people can disagree on, but we both came to variations of the same conclusion about this man.

Nothing allows us to dismiss another person better than a well-timed joke. We can listen to an hours-long discussions, and the whole discussion might be rendered moot with one quick line. Some of us are processors who need time to process information, and we enjoy hearing numerous opinions before forming a conclusion. We might obsess over otherwise inconsequential matters far too often, but we can’t understand how someone can come up with a quick, reflexive line like that and consider the matter settled. Do they develop this ability, because they are more comfortable in their own skin that that confidence allows them to swat nuanced, complicated ideas away? Or, are they so insecure that they seek to thwart all unusual thoughts before they question some fundamentals of their being? Is it a defense mechanism they use to help them avoid dwelling or obsessing on such topics, or do they consider most of the mysteries that plague the rest of us settled?

Being Weird is a Choice 

After meeting a few more platypus people in the years that followed, I realized I could dismiss the matter no longer, not until it was settled for me. I defined the unusual people I met in three categories. We’ve all met weird people, but we’ve also met some who are strange, and then there are those unusual thinkers who don’t fit either of those arbitrary categories. What’s the difference? One of the best ways I found to define a relative term like weird is to define what it is not. It is not, for the purpose of this discussion, strange. The term strange, by our arbitrary definition, concerns those affected by natural maladies. They had a variance inflicted upon them that they could not control, and they cannot escape. A person who chooses to be weird, on the other hand, can easily find their way back to the premise, they simply choose, for various reasons, to step away from it for a moment. The third category consists of otherwise healthy individuals who for reasons that are less philosophical and more anthropological cannot find their way their way back, due to an epistemological makeup that has been passed down their genealogical tree.

We don’t define these separations to be nice, though we do deem it mean-spirited to mock, insult, or denigrate people who arrive at their differences in a more natural manner. We don’t create this rhetorical device for our readers to consider us wonderful, more understanding, or compassionate, but we deem those who go out of their way to poke fun at the strange to be lacking in basic human decency. We also don’t want to leave the reader with the impression that we might be more normal, or more intelligent, than any of the subjects we discuss. We design this arbitrary separation for the sole purpose of providing some classifications for those who had no choice in the matter, against a backdrop of those who choose to be weird through the odd decisions they make in life.

We might think that anyone who chooses to be weird must suffer from a strange psychology. In my experience, it’s quite the opposite for our need to be different started out as a form of rebellion in our youth. We wanted to be weird to rebel against the philosophical and spiritual hold our parents had on us. Those of us who chose this path wanted to be perceived as being just as weird, strange, and just plain different as those we were conditioned to dismiss and avoid by our friends and family.

My dad sensed my need for separation early on, and he did everything he could to guide me toward a more normal path. Through the decades that followed, he attempted to correct my weird ideas with more sensible, normal lines of thought. “That isn’t the way,” was a phrase he used so often that my refusal to acquiesce to his more structured ways of the world was one of my primary forms of rebellion. There were so many intense arguments, and debates in our household that no observer could escape it without thinking that it was, at least, combustible. Before we explore the ways in which the old man was strange, I would like to take a moment to thank my dad for the effort he put into trying to make me normal. He did his best to provide his children the most normal upbringing he could.

I rebelled to the relatively strong foundation he built without recognizing the luxury I was afforded. The primary reason for my gratitude is that some of the truly weird and strange platypus people I’ve met since I left my dad’s home lead chaotic lives that can be a little scary. They came from very different homes, with a less than adequate foundation, and they ended up expending as much effort trying to prove they were normal as I did to be considered weird.

When we are very young, our parents set the premise from which we will operate. This premise is often generational, as our parents passed on the fundamental knowledge they learned from their parents. As we age, we begin to see the cracks in that foundation. At some point, we assume our parents are so normal that they’re boring. They might have some quirks but who doesn’t? They might even have more quirks than others, but doesn’t that just make them quirky? When we begin to add these quirks up, and we compare them to others’ parents, an uncomfortable, irrefutable truth emerges in this dichotomy: Our parents are strange people. They aren’t a little weird, or goofy, and we can no longer find comfort in the idea that our parents just have some different ideas about some subjects. They have some bona fide, almost clinical, deficiencies.

If we ever gain enough distance from them to view their idiosyncrasies with some objectivity, this revelation can be earth-shattering. We witnessed, firsthand, some confusing elements of their thought process, and we began adding them up, but it wasn’t until we put all the pieces together that that uncomfortable truth emerged.

After that relatively daunting epiphany clears, a sense of satisfaction takes its place. Our rebellion to their quirky ideas was the right course to follow, and we now see how justified we were. At some point in our various stages of processing this newfound information, we realize that for much of our life, our parents were a beacon of sanity in an otherwise confusing world they were charged with helping us understand. When we couple that information with everything else we’ve realized, it’s no longer as funny as we thought it was. We reach a point where we want/need them to be normal, and we ask them not to express themselves in front of our friends, because if our friends learn how strange our parents truly are, how long will it be before they connect those dots back to us?

My dad was abnormal, at the very least. Some might say he was a kook, and others might suggest he was an odd duck. In the frame we’re creating here though, he was a platypus person who was difficult to classify. Either he was born with certain deficiencies, or they were a result of self-inflicted wounds. One could say that those self-inflicted wounds were choices he made along the way, and if that is true I believe he made them as a result of some of his natural deficiencies.

The point of writing about my dad’s deficiencies is not to denigrate the man, but to point out that which separated him from what one would call a normal man. Those deficiencies plagued him, and he put forth a great deal of effort to convince the world around him that he was as normal as they were. The trials and tribulations he experienced in this regard marked his life, and he didn’t want his children to have to go through what he did, so he tried to establish a normal home without too much chaos. In his subjective approach to life, he thought fitting in with others and being normal were the keys to happiness, and he tried to pass that along to us. I rebelled to those teachings, because I couldn’t see his efforts for what they were at the time.

Even after years of reflecting on this, and recognizing what my dad’s efforts for what they were, I still like to dance in the flames of the weird, but once the lights come up I’m as normal now, and as boring, as everyone else. As hard as my dad tried to force normalcy on me, however, he couldn’t control the impulses I had to indulge in the artistic creations that glorified life outside the norm. I knew weird ideas were out there, and I pursued them with near wanton lust.

When I left the relatively normal home my dad tried to create for us, I ventured out into a world outside the realm of his influence. I lived the life I always wanted to live, and I found weird, oddball philosophies so intoxicating that I had trouble keeping them in the bottle.

My dad’s overwhelming influence on my life was such that I preferred the company of normal people long-term, but I remained eager to invite weird people in for a brief stay to challenge my status quo. Their brief stay would present me with different and weird ideas of thinking, weird platitudes, and oddball mentalities that shook the contents in my bottle a little bit more. I needed to know what made them tock (as opposed to the ticks I knew all too well). I became obsessed with the abnormal to find out what made them different, or if they were, and I had to deal with friends and family telling me that I should be avoiding these people, because they were so strange. I couldn’t, I said, not until I consumed all that they had to offer.

Advice for the Rebel and Freak Wannabes 

Violate the framework, I now say to aspiring rebels and freaks. Violate every spoken and unspoken rule our culture holds dear, and become that rebel that makes every square in the room uncomfortable. Disappoint your parents, and anyone who has expectations of you, so you, too, can become the freak or the oddball in the room. There may be no greater opportunity to define yourself in this relatively small window of time. Before going down these roads, however, an aspiring rebel needs to consider learning everything they can about the conventional rules that they plan to spend the rest of their life violating. Knowing the rules provides a foundation for substantial rebellions. All rebels think they know the conventional ways of the conventional, and they might think there’s no point in studying them, but if there’s one thing that I learned as an aspiring rebel, and in the many conversations I had with other rebels since, it’s that a rebel needs to know the rules better than the squares do. A violation of rules comes with its own set of rules, and subsets, for those seeking to violate in a constructive and substantive manner. Failure to learn them, and the proper violation of them, allows those who set the rules to dismiss a rebel as one who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and a rebel without a cause.

Most rebels find inspiration for their rebellion from screen stars who violate standards and upset the status quo in their presentations. These stars provide color by number routes to rebellion that are provocative and easy to follow. These rebellions also look great on a screen, but those seeking inspiration often fail to account for the fact that in a movie screenwriters and directors of these productions manipulate all of the extraneous conditions and side characters around the main character to enhance their qualities. We all know this is true, in some respects, but few of us factor it into our presentation. In real life, there are situations and forces that even a rebel with strong convictions cannot control. There are people who will present the rebel with scenarios for which they’re unprepared, and a failure to study the conventional rules from every angle possible, will lead the audience of the rebel’s argument to forget it soon after they make it.

James Dean was A Rebel Without a Cause, though, and James Dean was cooler than cool. For ninety minutes he was, and with all of extraneous conditions and side characters portraying the perfect contradictory behavior that would define the James Dean character’s rebellion, James Dean was cool. Cooler than cool. Again, the real life rebel cannot manipulate his extraneous conditions and side characters to enhance their presentations in the manner all the behind the scene’s players did in that movie. In real life, the extraneous players who topple the uninformed rebel with corrections consider a rebel without a cause, and a rebel without substance. They may regard him as uninteresting, after the initial flash of intrigue with their rebelliousness subsides.

My advice to all aspiring rebels is to listen to those squares who are so normal they make them throw up in their mouth a little, for they may teach a rebel more about what they’re rebelling against than those who feed into their confirmation bias.

My aunt was an absolute bore. She taught me the elements of life that bored the fill in the blank out of me with her preachy presentations on “Good and honest living.” She didn’t know where it was at, as far as I was concerned. I sought entrée into the “Do what you feel” rock and roll persona that left carnage in its wake. I debated her point for point. I knew the elements of the rock and roll lifestyle well. My aunt was not much of a debater. She knew her “Good and honest living” principles, but she could not debate me point for point. When compared to the rock and roll figures of our culture, she had poor presentation skills. She was also overweight and unattractive. The entertainers were attractive and thin, they all had strong jaw lines, and they confirmed all of the beliefs I had about life.

Life should be easy, judgment free, and fun, I decided. It shouldn’t involve the moral trappings of what is right and what is wrong. As long as no one gets hurt, a person should be able to do what they feel like doing. Viewing all of this in retrospect, however, I now realize that the boring, pedantic, obese, and unattractive people taught me ten times as much about life as any of the entertainers. The entertainers were just better at packaging their presentations.

The crux of my rebellion was that I wanted to expel whatever my body couldn’t use into the face of the mainstream. I wanted to be so weird that they could taste it. The responsible grownups who played a quality role in my development had a boring sameness about them, and the idea that I might be able to be something different led to some growth in my undercarriage. My dad vied for this sameness, and he wanted the same for me, but no matter how hard he tried to make me normal, I continued to explore the abbie normal side of humanity.

✽✽✽

In my efforts to have someone, somewhere consider me weird, I spotted the now endangered platypus person. The reason we place the platypus person on the endangered list is that with the advent of devices and the internet, the idea of total nonconformity is even rarer than it was when I was younger. It’s no longer as simple as a person not having cable. They must avoid all that is available to them in the information age, including the internet. It’s easier than it’s ever been for them to consciously and subconsciously replicate and mimic our thoughts, rhythms, and patterns, in other words. It also leads to greater assimilation, and it makes them tougher to spot. If, for whatever reason, they are not able to camouflage their duck’s bill on an otter’s body, we should note that it’s rarely by choice. As I suggested earlier, they sincerely want to be normal, but their upbringing was such that it requires some effort on their part to do what it takes for others to perceive someone as normal. They don’t mimic to deceive anyone, unless one considers convincing oneself of a lie so thoroughly that they believe it themselves an act of deception.

In the course of my efforts to find the rare bird, I realized that it can take weeks to months before we see their duck bill, because they only show it to people they trust, and that trust takes time to build. It also takes a level of familiarity for them to be comfortable. To get them to open up, we might have to give them our weaknesses, but we don’t do this for the purpose of getting them open up. We don’t know they’re platypus people when we speak to them. We aren’t reporters digging for their story, a story, or this story. We just do it in the course of establishing a friendship with them, as we would with any other person. As with the egg-laying, semi-aquatic mammal, platypus people require a certain environment, and very specific conditions before they reveal themselves. When they do reveal themselves, there is some insecurity involved in their reveal, but there is also relief. It’s obvious that they have experienced levels of ridicule and abuse for their thoughts and ideas, and they are relieved to find someone who is so curious about the way they think.

The only times I have been able to build this level of trust, through prolonged involvement, have occurred within the confines of shared employment. On one of these jobs, I developed what we could call a cerebral crush on one of my fellow employees. We had numerous, fascinating conversations on a variety of unrelated topics. In one of our last non-work-related conversations, she replied to one of my stories with a, “Wait a second, did you say you want to be weird? You actually want to be weird? People don’t want to be weird. They either are, or they aren’t.”

This response wobbled me a little, because I thought she and I were both playing with peoples’ heads in the same manner. I thought she wanted to be considered weird too. I had no idea the things she did and said were more organically weird, strange, or just plain different. Her response told me that I had no business playing with her toys, in this sense. It also wobbled me a little, because I never heard anyone defend weirdness before. The conversation went on for a couple minutes, but no matter what I said, she kept cycling it back to this two sentence theme: People don’t want to be weird. They either are, or they aren’t

I would try, numerous times, after that conversation to steer her back to what I considered a fascinating topic, but she would have none of it. I wanted to know what it meant to be weird, from her perspective. I wanted her to elucidate on the difference between being weird and trying to be weird, but unbeknownst to me, she considered that conversation over, and she found all of my subsequent questions on the topic insulting.

Therefore, I can only guess that the import of her condemnation of my efforts was based on this idea she had that weirdness should be a birthright. It should be natural and organic. It was a ‘how dare you try to be one of us, if you’re not’ reaction to those who regard the organic nature of their oddities a birthright. She presumably regarded this as equivalent to a person who wears glasses to look sexier when they don’t have to wear them, an act that ticks off those who are required to wear them.

I felt caught while in the moment. I thought of all the attempts I made to have another consider me weird, and I thought of how inorganic they were. I felt like a fraud. As I said, my dad raised me in a manner that forced me to accept the norms, and I’m going to take another moment out of this piece to say something I didn’t say to him when he was alive, God bless you Dad for forcing a foundation of normalcy down my throat. God bless you for creating a base of normalcy from which I rebelled, for without that base I now wonder what I may have become.

My guess was that this woman’s upbringing was probably chaotic, and she spent most of her adult life striving for what others might call normal. She was weird in a more natural and fundamental sense, and she condemned anyone who might dare play around in what she proclaimed her birthright, but there was also an element of sadness and misery about her that was obvious to anyone who knew some details of her struggle.

Those of us who had enough involvement with her to know her beyond the superficial knew that chaos dominated much of her life, and we learned that it led her to desperately seek the refuge of any substance she could find to ease that pain.

I realized through this friend, and all of the other weird characters that have graced my life before and after, that there was weird and there was weird. There is a level of weird that is fun, a little obnoxious, and entertaining in a manner that tingles the area of the brain that enjoys stepping outside the norm. The other level of weird, the one that we could arbitrarily define as strange, is a little scary when one takes a moment to spelunk through the caverns of their mind.

Was this woman a little weird? Was she so weird that we could call her strange by the arbitrary definitions we’ve laid out, or were her sensibilities so different from mine that I sought to classify her in some way to help me feel normal by comparison?

When compared to all of my other experiences with platypus people, she was an anomaly. Was she weirder than I was though? “Who cares?” we might say in unison. She did. It may never have occurred to her –prior to this particular conversation– to use the idea of being weird as a cudgel to carve out some level of superiority. In that particular conversation, it was for her, and she didn’t appear to feel unusual doing so. It appeared, in fact, to be vital to her makeup that I acknowledge that she had me on this topic. She was weird, and I was trying to be weird. Who tries to be weird? Phony people. That’s who. Check, check, check. She wins.

What did she win though? Some odd form of superiority? How long did she search for some point of superiority? How many topics did we cover, in our numerous, unrelated conversations, before she was able to spot one aspect of her personality in which she had some level of superiority? If either of these questions wreaks of ego on my part, let’s flip it around and ask how many battles did she lose trying to appear as normal as her counterpart was? She needed a victory. I had numerous conversations with this woman before we drifted apart, and I never saw this competitive side of her again. She thought she had me on this one weird, strange, or just plain different topic, and I can only assume it gave her some satisfaction to do so.

Are you weird, strange, just plain different, or an unclassifiable platypus person? No one cares, you might say, and quit judging people with labels. Our subjective reactions to define anomalies define us. Some of us try to cut analysis short by accusing anyone who obsesses over differences as lacking in compassion. Others drop a quick, humorous line that allows them to dismiss subjects of curiosity. Those of us who dwell (see: obsess) over these topics don’t understand how others can turn this part of their brain off, because we think our story lies somewhere in the sedimentary levels of the strange and weird platypus people.

We all know some weird people, and we’ve encountered those who are strange and just plain different. We’ve also learned that some are so different that they’re difficult to classify. The one answer we could provide is that we all have a relative hold on the various truths of life, and those answers help us keep the idea of random chaos at bay. Those who have had prolonged involvement with a platypus person, however, know that they have their answers too. Those answers might be different from everything we’ve heard our whole life, but does that make them weird, strange or just plain different? The frustration that those of us who search for answers in life know is that some of the times there are no concrete answers to some questions. Some of the times, questions lead to answers and some of the times, answers lead to other questions, intriguing, illuminating questions. Am I weird, strange, or so different from everyone else has trouble classifying me? Do these questions require the level of exhaustive analysis we devote to it, or does it have more to do with the idea that some of us didn’t have cable growing up?

Next up: Meet the Platypus People

The Thief’s Mentality IV: The Umbrella


The Thief’s Mentality is not concerned with actual acts of thievery, as much as it is the worldview of the deceptive and the delusional. If all theory is autobiography, the deceptive and delusional view the world from the perspective that the world around them is as dishonest as they are. Furthermore, those who don’t know acknowledge that they are either as dishonest as the rest of us, are in some form of denial or suffering from a psychosis of another stripe. They also believe those who instructed us to act right throughout our maturation (our parents and our teachers) have done this for so long that we’re now convinced that we are more honest than we truly are. The thief’s job, as they see it, is to open our eyes to the world around us to provide us a perspective we’ve never considered before.

The Thief’s Umbrella. We’re no better than anyone else is, and we know it. Our parents pounded this principle home so often that many of us consider it our defining principle. If for any reason we forget that, in our interactions with deceptive people, they remind us of it. They’ll put so much effort into it that by the time they’re done with us, we might end up questioning our integrity. Most of us have had a lover cheat on us, but how many of us have had one cheat so often that we’re still embarrassed by how much they fooled us. Their octopus ink involved psychological projection in the form of repetitive accusations of infidelity on our part. Those of who have never cheated on a lover know how effective such charges are, for they keep us on defense. We’ve all encountered deceptive individuals who employed these tactics so often that we never considered questioning their integrity. If their goals were to prevent us from analyzing them, they were successful, but when we reflect back of those confusing entanglements, we recognize that their accusations said more about them than us. Some might call it projection, others might say that it’s some sort of deflection or obfuscation on the part of the thief, but The Thief’s Mentality suggests that it all falls under a comprehensive, multi-tiered umbrella called the thief’s mentality.

Delusions and Illusions. While some of the characters in these stories may be engaged in one of the various forms of deception, most of them (actual thieves, liars and cheats excepted) are not lying in the manner we traditionally associate with a dishonest person. They believe what they are saying to be true, but the difference between them and most people is how they rationalize what they do. Some of us consider the ramifications of what we are about to do, others just act, and leave it to us to reflect on what they did.

Whether we’re the odd ones or not, their worldview is so foreign to ours, we dig deep to understand how, or why, they think so different. It might be a fool’s errand to try to source such a line of thought, but if we were able to meet their parents, and various other members from their genealogical tree we might discover the seeds of it. For those who consider this a bit of a stretch, The Thief’s Mentality asks how much of our lives do we spend rebelling against, and acquiescing to parental influence, and how many of us can say we are entirely free from it?

The Stories of Others. “You have to tell your own story simultaneously as you hear and respond to the stories of others,” by Elizabeth Alexander. This quote captures the essence of The Thief’s Mentality. The essays contained in this collection were not spontaneous creations. Rather, they are deep methodical dives into the motives of everyday people involved in everyday interactions. These are their stories, and it was the author’s job to capture them. Some of their stories might be similar to ours, but most of them provide a contradictory view of the world that is so different from ours. We learn through our reading that it’s all a big, tasty stew.

The Sitcom Formula. My favorite sitcoms involve the formula of a normal main character playing the eye of the storm. The ensemble cast members define the show and the main character, through contrast, but the central role the main character plays on the show is that of an observer. (Think Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld or Alex Reiger on Taxi.) The main character is so normal that they act as the conduit to the everyman in the audience, pointing out the flaws, foibles, and eccentricities of the side characters. “Wouldn’t your life be so much easier if you just did that this way?” is the main character’s response to the ensembles’ thoughts and actions. Our side characters in life often define us in similar ways, as they add unnecessary complications to their lives, and we play the center to their storm.

We found the “Wouldn’t your life be so much easier if you just did that this way?” questions a more engaging way of framing an argument in these stories. This isn’t to say that The Thief’s Mentality avoids arguments. In the most opinionated pieces in this collection, we present the “I” character’s opinion in conjunction with how the opposing view may have formulated. We do disagree with the manner in which they conduct themselves, but we catalog the probable gestation cycle of the begrudged, and the role we all played in it, but we “but” our way to achieving the final question regarding their nature.   

A POS. Do you know a true piece of work (a POS)? Have you ever met his parents? Yeah, nuff said, right? Chances are his parent’s friends were all POSs too, and so were their kids. Chances are our friend spent most of his youth running around with those kids. Without knowing it, he developed an affinity for likeminded people, until everyone he knew thought the same way and developed in a similar manner, until Ms. Comparative-Analysis came walking down the hall. By the time he encountered her, he knew how to use his “She ain’t all that” to combat uncomfortable comparisons. As he learned more about her, he added a splash of “Who does she think she is anyway?” to fortify his wall. If he eventually befriended her, most of his preconceived notions fell apart, but he wasn’t discouraged. He attempted to convince her that she was a POS too, and she didn’t even know it. He aided her enlightenment with a constant barrage of accusations, and he continued this onslaught to keep her as honest as he wanted her to be. His rationale was that he didn’t want her to do to him what he was more apt to do to her. Even if some part of him knew she never would, he did his best to keep her insecure and unsure of her moral integrity, so she didn’t flirt with the notion that she might be better than he is. He also did this because a part of him knew that if people wanted to keep him honest they would consider using such tactics against him. He also knows that the best defense is a good offense and a constant barrage of accusations will keep her on defense, so that she might never examine him and see his true POS nature for what it is. 

Listening skills. “You’re a great listener,” a casual associate once told me. “In a world of people waiting for others to stop talking so they can speak, you actually listen to what people say, and you pay attention to what they do. I just want you to know how rare that is.” I beamed with pride. I didn’t beam as much when others issued similar compliments, because by that time I happened upon a secret that might diminish their compliments: I didn’t actually care what happened to the people telling me their stories. I listened to their stories so well that I could repeat them with a surprising level of accuracy, and the questions I asked them throughout revealed how fascinated I was with their story, but I may have cared less about what actually happened to them than those who don’t listen. This little secret left me wondering if they would still give me the compliment if I revealed that fact to them. Would they smile in the appreciative way they did if they knew my motives were less than pure and some might say self-serving?

Others didn’t offer me that compliment in such a direct manner, but they opened up and told me things about their life I can only guess they didn’t dare tell anyone else. This indirect compliment expanded when I asked them active listening questions, and they answered every question I had. The intimacy we shared during those moments told me how rare it was for them to have a person so interested in what they had to say.

The easy answer I developed for my dilemma was that I love a great story, and when I hear one, I want to know every single detail of it. I want to explore it beyond the storyteller’s frame, to the extent that the storyteller is examining the short-term and long-term effects of their story in a way that the storyteller may not have considered before. No matter how urgent I became, however, I didn’t care about them. I just wanted to know everything about their story.

The final answer I arrived at was as confusing as the question, for the primary reason most people don’t listen to others is that they’re too self-involved. Yet, I was so self-involved that I was more interested in the stories of others than most are. When I listened to another tell their story, it was almost entirely self-serving, as I strove to know them better than they might know themselves, so that I might understand myself better through all the similarities and contrasts they present in their story. Did I deserve the title of being called a great listener if my motives were not pure, or was the “who cares why you’re listening as long as you are” concept more prominent? I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that in some ways their stories helped shape my story in a way that shaped this collection of essays.

Rocking the Worldview. When we listen to others tell their tale, we develop an idea for how the world works one person at a time. Similar to the manner in which the universe works, we believe that all earthly bodies have a magnetic relationship to one another that defines their orbit, our orbit, and the general sense of order in our universe. When an exception to our rules comes along and redefines it, they do so at their own peril. We don’t allow them to breathe after they hit our tripwire. We rip them apart and help them put all their pieces back together according to our sense of order. Some might argue that that is the essence of The Thief’s Mentality, but this book focuses its theme on those people who tweak the premise of our sense of order.

The Epiphany Effect. The Thief’s Mentality is loaded with epiphanies. A reader could make the mistake in assuming that the reason we wrote the essays in question was to provide the author a vehicle to write all the epiphanies he learned over the years. While that’s not entirely true, we do find the epiphanies so compelling that there is some grain of truth to it, but what is an epiphany?

Most of us park in the same place for work every day, even if we don’t have an assigned spot, and we sit in the same spot for meetings and any other regular event we attend where there are no designated spots for us. Routines have a way of staving off the random and leading to a greater sense of order, and this all leads to a greater sense of overall happiness. One could say that any contradictions and inconsistencies we encounter could lead to confusion and ultimately unhappiness. We watch these contradictions live their lives in a way that makes no sense to our foundational structure, our values, and our way of living life. As we attempt to account for contradictions and inconsistencies and try to gain a greater hold on the way the world works, we experience more and that can lead to greater comfort and more happiness. The relief we feel can lead us to become stuck in our ways, and any idea that questions our newfound sense of order could make us uncomfortable and unhappy. Yet, most of us come equipped with a small window that we leave cracked open to ideas that might rattle our notions. These ideas are, more often than not, not revolutionary ideas that might shatter that window. Rather, they are eye-opening clarifications that tweak our understanding of the way the world works that The Thief’s Mentality calls epiphanies. Merriam-Webster.com defines epiphany as “An intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking.”

Even though there is a dictionary definition of the word epiphany, it is a unique word in the lexicon for most define it based on their individual experiences with it. The potential power an epiphany might have on a person’s life is characteristically patient for the immediate reaction we have to these thoughts is that they’re so obvious that we think either we have explored them before or we should have.

A revolutionary thought, by contrast, has an almost immediate impact. A revolutionary thought causes our jaw to drop, but an epiphany typically requires subsequent incidents for the recipient to understand how they apply to our lives. When this occurs, the recipient begins to see what they considered an accepted norm in a way slightly different than they did before they heard the thought. For some the word has religious connotations, for others it might involve striking moment, but some consider it nothing more than a subtle crank of the wheel. One noteworthy experience discussed in The Thief’s Mentality, involved an obvious thought the author spent far too much time tweaking. When he first heard it, he dismissed it as so obvious that he didn’t think about it for ten seconds. The characteristics of this epiphany reared its beautiful head later, when the author least expected it, and it continued to do so until he had it all shiny, redefined, and ready for use in his world.

This definition of an epiphany is similar to a subtle twist in a movie that does not reveal itself until the movie is over. “Why did that happen?” we ask our friends on our way out of the theater. “Because she said that to him? Oh, before she did the other thing. Ok, now it all makes sense.” When we begin to notice how often these subtle, otherwise insignificant thoughts apply to our situations we start chewing on it, until we’re digesting it, and we’re viewing the world a little bit differently than we did before we began processing the thought. Others might continue to find such tiny nuggets of information nothing more than waste matter –to bring this analogy to its biological conclusion– but when an eager student begins adding bits of their own thoughts to an epiphany, it snowballs into an individual truth. Once we clear these hurdles and embrace the power of epiphanies, we begin to see what we once considered the accepted truth, as it is for so many, is not as true for us as we once thought.

The Thief’s Mentality plants no flag on whatever unusual points of brilliance these epiphanies unearth for the reader, for the author is but a messenger repeating what should’ve been so obvious prior to processing it. These epiphanies provided eye-opening clarification on a topic we thought we understood, but the epiphany can provide a subtle crank of the wheel that we call the epiphany effect. As I wrote, the epiphany effect can lead the recipient to think they should’ve considered it before, even to the point of considering themselves less than intelligent in the aftermath. “I can’t believe I never saw it quite that way before.” Epiphanies can do that, but the individual who might consider themselves less than intelligent for not seeing it sooner should relax with the knowledge that this happens all the time to such a wide range of people.

One final note on epiphanies, they are elusive and fleeting. As author James Joyce once said, “[They] are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.” An epiphany is not a one size fits all, as most of them do not apply to most people. The delicate nature of an epiphany is such that even when they do apply they are so personal that no one else might understand why it means more than the obvious to us. Locating the qualities of an eye-opening thought and interpreting it for personal usage does not require a level of intelligence, as I wrote, but it does require some level of personal ingenuity to sculpt and shape them for individual interpretation. The fleeting nature of an epiphany suggests that it’s entirely possible that a person could stumble across an epiphany and miss it. Most naked epiphanies, or those that we haven’t shaped for personal interpretation, seem so obvious that we allow them to pass without further thought. By the time we recognize the substantive information of an epiphany, we may not remember the loose, delicate connection it could have had to our lives and the manner in which we could’ve applied it. The author has encountered many situations in which an epiphany could’ve applied, but he couldn’t remember the exact phrasing of the epiphany. How many times do we hear such a subtle crank of the wheel, and when we try to use it, we narrow it down to the author that wrote it, and the book they wrote it in, but we can’t find the exact passage in question when we need it. It’s frustrating. Some might say that if the epiphany were as profound as we suggest, we would’ve remembered it, and while that may be true in some cases, in others, it elucidates how elusive and fleeting they are by nature. As the Joyce quote alludes, the nature of their power requires diligence on the part of the recipient. The Thief’s Mentality is comprised of what some might consider so obvious that they’re hardly worth considering, but it’s these little, insignificant thoughts that end up shaping our thoughts more than the revolutionary ones might.

Price Check: Can of Soup


“Whaddya mean $1.37?!” a wiry haired, bespectacled customer asked a sixteen-year-old, unindicted co-conspirator in the price-fixing conspiracy that the old man has dreamed up for a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, “It was $1.22, just last week.”  I know you’re angry sir, I think noting the veins protruding on the man’s nose, and the ruddy complexion, that seem indigenous to those that that have a favorite bar stool.  And I know you’re dying to tell anyone that will listen (or is forced to listen) but this poor, red headed cashier, named Eddie, has a lot less say than you think in Target’s “outrageous” price scheme.  And as much as you’d like to think your eyes are wide open on this issue, Target does not add anything to Eddie’s wage if he is able to add your fifteen cents to their profit margin.  The trouble Eddie has counting back your change should provide enough evidence that Eddie is not involved in the determinations made on shipping and handling costs; the amount of state and federal taxes imposed on this product; or the mushroom-marketing cooperative’s decision on the costs the manufacturing.  It’s also reasonable to suspect that the diatribe that you’ve obviously rehearsed in the mirror about the effect the improving economies in Latin America could have on the price of mushrooms, if their production of mushrooms proves to increase at the rate some project, will be lost on everyone involved once your transaction with Eddie is concluded.

esq-cream-of-mushroom-soup-0312-Zio6xr-lgYou may believe that this face of Target, this sixteen-year-old, named Eddie, knows full well what’s going on, but one look at his blanker-than-usual expression should tell you all that you need to know.  Unfortunately, you are an informed consumer, and you feel the need to give him your what for.

The sixteen-year-old can do nothing about it, however, and you will likely be considered what they call a moron for arguing with the sixteen-year-old in the first place.  The sixteen-year-old will, likely, not care that you have this complaint, and he will likely forget all about your informed complaint the minute you step out of line.  He’s not going to tell his boss, and his boss is not going to tell his boss, and there will be no boardroom discussion focusing on your complaint regarding the rising cost of a can of cream of mushroom soup.

A Matter of Death and Life


Life is not random, some say, it is choreographed by a controlling force with a master plan that we may not understand at first, but will eventually come clear when we look back and see the final portrait.  For others, life is a random series of moments, equivalent to an abstract pointillism painting.  This belief suggests that we’re simply here one day, talking to our friends, gone the next.  Human life has more meaning than the life of the badger in the arena of consciousness of life, but little more than that.  The primary difference, for these people, comes from the act of looking at life, examining it with strained eyes, until we see a purpose that we believed was there all along.  No matter how one looks at it, we can all agree that these moments of life are finite, and that it is an abuse to waste them.  The latter becomes all the more clear when we’ve survived a death-defying incident.

An abstract pointillism painting

An abstract pointillism painting

Part of the allure of the story of the vampire is the dream mere mortals have of being immortal, so that these moments of life can be infinite.  These dreams only become more profound as we age, and the realization of our own mortality becomes more substantial –and the idea of eventually becoming inconsequential, even to those that love us most, haunts us– we dream of immortality.  The dream of immortality is one thing, the non-fan have argued, but the actuality of it would be quite another.

The import of the allure of the vampire story is the question that fascinates us, “What would you do if you knew knew that you were going to live forever?”  The less obvious question, asked by cynical viewers/readers of the story is, “Why would you do it?”  How exciting would the bungee jump be to the person that knew there was no chance they were going to die?  The primal fear of falling would surely affect some vampires, as they were all mortal once, but if you can’t even be superficially wounded, much less mortally, how much allure would there be in the “death plunge” of the bungee jump?

In most incarnations of the story, the vampire is not only immortal and invulnerable to superficial injury, they can even manipulate situations to a point where they wouldn’t have to experience emotional pain.  Through the power of their eyes, most vampires can convince mere mortals to do their bidding.  As a result, no girl can ever dump them; no bully can pick on them; and no moron can ever do anything to mess their life up.  In most incarnations of the vampire story, the use of this power is selective, so as to allow the mortals involved in the story to do things that give the story greater drama, but the cynics in the audience wonder why the vampires don’t just turn on their eye power and persuade the girl to love them.  (I know most vampire stories involve the vampire wanting organic love from the girl that results from the mortal deciding to love them, but the very idea that they can circumvent this process by turning on their eye power diminishes this to a tool used by the author of the story to provide drama.)  We cynics understand that thread of the story that the greatness of love lies in its achievement for the vampire, but when he is utterly devastated by the failure to do so, the vampire doesn’t have to experience that devastation.  The vampire has a plan B.  The eyes.  Just flick on that power.

Mere mortals have no idea if the girl is going to love us in real life, and we have no plan B if she doesn’t.  We are pretty sure that we’re going to survive the bungee jump, and the roller coaster, as they offer some comfort of being a controlled environment, but there is some fear –that results in some adrenaline– involved in the idea that we’re not 100% positive.  If you were 100% positive that you weren’t going to die, or even receive some painful superficial wounds, why would you do it?  Would there be any sense of accomplishment in achieving love from another, if you knew that you had such a solid plan B that you could convince the girl to love you, regardless what she decides.

Some of us have had near death experiences, from a car crash that first responders informed us should’ve resulted in the end of our moments; we’ve been informed that if our death-defying incident had occurred inches to the left, or right, we would no longer be here to talk about it; and others have had incidents that require no such explanations of how close they’ve come.  Those that have survived the latter speak of a sense of euphoria that overwhelms them and profoundly informs the rest of their life.  This sense of euphoria, they say, does not last forever, or as long as it probably should, but for the short time you’re immersed in it, your second lease on life can be euphoric.

In an attempt to explain this blast of euphoria that comes from being unsuccessfully murdered, author of the collection of essays We Never Learn, Tim Kreider, uses the plot of Ray Bradbury’s The Lost City of Mars to illustrate: “A man finds a miraculous machine that enables him to experience his own violent death over and over again, as many times as he likes –in locomotive collisions, race car crashes, and exploding rocket ships– until he emerges flayed of all his Christian guilt and unconscious longing for death, forgiven and free, finally alive.”

In the essay, Reprieve, Kreider explains that after it was deemed that he would survive the attempt on his life, he considered everything that followed as “Gravy.”  A term he derives from a man, author Raymond Carver, that was also granted a second lease on life.

Quoting from the proverbial “food tastes better” template of survivors, Kreider states that he did things he wouldn’t have done in his pre-murder attempt life, and what was once deemed troubling, dramatic, and consequential in the first life, became trivial in the scope of having survived.  Kreider claims he even developed a loud, racauos laugh, in his reprieve, that caused “People to look over to make sure I was not about to open up on them with a weapon.”  He claims that laughter could be heard when he complained to a friend, “You don’t understand me.”

The friend responded: “No, sir, I understand you very well –it is you who do not understand yourself.”

Whereas most survivors perceive divine intervention in their narrow escape, Kreider states that even in the midst of his euphoria, that “Not for one passing moment did it occur to me to imagine that God Must Have Spared My Life For Some Purpose.  I was not blessed or chosen, but lucky.”

I wish I could recommend the experience of not being killed to everyone.  It’s a truism,” he basically states, that motivates most thrill-seeking adventurers to attempt what are basically “suicide attempts with safety nets”.  “The trick,” he writes, “Is to get the full effect you have to be genuinely uncertain that you’re going to survive.  The best approximation would be to hire an incompetent, Clouseauque (Inspector Clouseau, played by Peter Sellers, in the movie The Pink Panther) hit man to assassinate you.   

“It’s one of the maddening perversities of human psychology that we only notice we’re alive when we’re reminded we’re going to die, the same way some of us appreciate our girlfriends only after they’ve become exes.”  Kreider writes of his terminally ill father, writing that while in his last days: “(The man) cared less about things that didn’t matter and more about the things that did.  It was during his illness that he gave me the talk that all my artist friends have envied, in which he told me that he and my mother believed in my talent and I shouldn’t worry about getting “some dumb job.””

But, Kreider writes: “You can’t feel crazily grateful to be alive your whole life any more than you can stay passionately in love forever—or grieve forever, for that matter. Time makes us all betray ourselves and get back to the busywork of living.”

The latter quote reminds one of a guest on The Tonight Show in which this guest talked about a love that spanned decades.  She claimed that her husband provided her a white rose every day, and that the two of them never fought.  In the aftermath of that interview, host Johnny Carson turned to his sidekick Ed McMahon and said something along the lines of: “It’s a beautiful story, and I wish I had the same (Carson was married four times), but I can’t help but thinking how boring it would be to never fight for that many years.  I’m not calling her a liar.  I believe her.  I just think it would be boring.”

In great loves, and great lives, life can experience great highs and great lows, but the great highs cannot be fully appreciated without the contrast of great lows.

I don’t know why we take our worst moods so much more seriously than our best,” Kreider writes, “Crediting depression with more clarity than euphoria. We dismiss peak moments and passionate love affairs as an ephemeral chemical buzz, just endorphins or hormones, but accept those 3 A.M. bouts of despair as unsentimental insights into the truth about our lives.  It’s easy now to dismiss that year (following the survival of the unsuccessful murder) as nothing more than the same sort of shaky, hysterical high you’d feel after getting clipped by a taxi.  But you could also try to think of it as a glimpse of reality, being jolted out of a lifelong stupor.  It’s like the revelation I had the first time I ever flew in an airplane as a kid: when you break through the cloud cover you realize that above the passing squalls and doldrums there is a realm of eternal sunlight, so keen and brilliant you have to squint against it, a vision to hold on to when you descend once again beneath the clouds, under the oppressive, petty jurisdiction of the local weather.”

We all love to quote Murphy’s law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”  It’s important to prepare for things to go wrong, of course, but is it a truism that everything will go wrong, or is it a “maddening perversity of human psychology” that we only notice things when they do?  If the petty jurisdiction of local weather provides us with clear and 60, how long will we remember that versus -2 and 10 inches of snow?  And how beautiful is clear and 60 when all we’ve known, all week, is -2 and 10 inches?  How beautiful, conversely, would clear and 60 be if we could use the eye power of the vampire to have clear and 60, 365?  The dream would be one thing, the reality quite another.

Know Thyself


“I do not know myself yet, so it seems a ridiculous waste of my time to be investigating other, irrelevant matters,” —Socrates, on the subject of studying mythology and other trivial concerns.

“Know thyself?” we ask. “I know myself. In fact, I know myself better than anyone else does. Why would I waste my time trying to understand myself better when other people are the ones who make no sense? I have no problem with me, and this idea of trying to know thyself better, to the level the ancient Greeks and Socrates suggest, seems to be nothing more than a selfish conceit for pointy-headed intellectuals with too much time on their hands.”

Philosophers suggest that the key to living the good life lies in reflection and self-examination. If an individual does not have a full grasp of their strengths and weaknesses, any changes they make for the better might be pointless or unsustainable.

One of the measures some use to gain a better understanding of themselves is through comparative analysis. They use others to understand how weird, strange, and different they are, and they derive feelings of superiority and inferiority in the process. This analysis also provides some relief when they examine themselves against the freaks, creeps, and geeks. “At least I’m not that,” they declare.

Using the Cartesian coordinate system we studied in high school algebra might help us locate where we are compared to the point of origin, referred to here as the point of absolute normalcy, on one axis, versus our resultant superiority and inferiority on the other, to form a (0,0) for example, on the (X,Y) axis. This may be an inexact science, but comparative analysis is the most common method we use to know ourselves better.

We’ve all met strange individuals who tend to be strange in a more organic manner, and we know we’re not that. Through comparative analysis, we might say that the strangest person we meet exists five increments to the left of the point of normalcy on X axis of the Cartesian coordinate system, if being strange is a negative. Yet we know, because people have told us that we are not the type anyone would place on the point of origin, our arbitrary definition of absolute normal.

The first question those of us who seek truth through comparative analysis should ask is if we have a model for absolute normalcy. The second question regards the numerous ideas we all have about being normal, weird, and strange. Most consider these relative concepts nearly impossible to quantify, but I’m sure they would have an argument against defining us as the barometer by which all people striving for normalcy should be measured. Normal might be one of the most relative concepts there is, for we all define it internally and compare the rest of the world to our definition of it. How normal are we, and how normal is the most normal person we know?

If we prize normalcy, we might argue that for all of our eccentricities, we are quite normal. We might admit that a majority of people we run into are more normal than we are, but we also consider them just as boring. If we are able to admit that, we’re admitting that we are a two on the weird-to-normal axis. We can guess that our point on the X axis would have a corresponding effect on the Y axis if being normal has a corresponding relationship to self-esteem and the subsequent feelings of superiority. Through comparative analysis we could say, with some confidence, that we are a (2,2) coordinate, as compared to the rest of the normal, well-adjusted world.

When plotting points in our personal ledger, most people don’t view themselves honestly, and that makes it difficult to compare ourselves to others. Too often, we instinctually eliminate the negative in our quest to accentuate the positive. Thus, if we are the ones introducing the variables to this equation, there will always be contradictions, and these contradictions lead to the answer no solution.

The true solution to all that plagues us does not lie in comparative analysis, so everyone can put their pencils down. These ledgers are pointless. The solution to knowing more about oneself lies just inside the analysis we perform when deciding our comparative plotting points to form our Cartesian coordinate points. Most of us will not arrive at a definitive answer, but if the questions we ask ourselves lead to other questions we were on the correct road to final analysis through self-reflection. Ask more questions, in other words, and the subject of the interrogation is destined to provide their interrogator more answers. The point plotter might never find the perfect question that leads to a truth of it all, but questions lead to answers, and answers provide other questions, ultimately providing more answers than most that never ask them receive.

✽✽✽

The great philosophers spent a lifetime asking questions of themselves and their followers, yet many in the audience considered their inquiries too general. Bothered by these complaints, some believed the ancient Greeks granted them a gift in the form of a maxim. One of the many things, the ancient Greeks offered was a simple inscription on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, reported to the world by Pausanias.

This gift was what modern-day philosophers might call the ancient philosophers’ “Holy stuff!” moment, and what a previous generation would call a “Eureka!” moment. To all philosophers since, it has become the foundation for all philosophical thought. For modern readers, the discovery may appear as vague as it has always been, but it is a comprehensive sort of vague that helped construct the science of philosophy. This simple, complex discovery was a Rosetta Stone for the human mind, human nature, and human involvement, and the ancient Greeks achieved it with two simple words, “Know thyself.”[1]           

Perhaps a modern translation or update of the ancient Greek maxim is necessary. Perhaps, today, we should say, “Keep track of yourself,” as that might be a better interpretation for those modern readers who are blessed or cursed with the many modern distractions that render such a task more difficult.

Although it could be said that mankind has found the investigation of other, more irrelevant matters far more entertaining for as long as we have occupied Earth, few would argue that we have more distractions from the central argument of knowing thyself than we have right now. Today, it is easier than ever before to lose track of who we are, who we really are.

The Holy Grail for those who produce images for our numerous screens is to create characters the audience can identify with so well that we relate to them. Another goal is to create characters that we not only relate to but we attempt to emulate. Idyllic images litter this path to the Holy Grail, and we associate with them so often that we begin to incorporate the characters’ idealism into our personality. On a conscious level, we know they are fictional characters, yet they exhibit such admirable characteristics that we attempt to mimic them when we are among our peers. Somewhere along the path, who we really are can get lost in the shuffle.

A decisive moment eventually arrives when we find that we’re having difficulty drawing a line of distinction between the subconscious incorporation of these fictional characteristics and the realization that we are not those characters and vice versa. This decisive moment is often one of crisis, and it can lead an identity crisis, because we always thought that when a moment of crisis arrived we would be able to handle it much better than we did.

When this identity crisis occurs, we might initially project an idyllic screen image version of us into reality. That version knows how to handle this crisis better than we ever will. Yet, it is not us, in the truest sense, but a different us, some fictional image we have created of us that handles pressure so much better. The trouble is, now that the reality of a real-world crisis stands before us, we cannot remember how that character that we resonated with did it.

In one distant memory, we were a swashbuckling hero who encountered a similar problem and dealt with it in a more heroic fashion. We might have encountered a verbal assault on our character in another distant, foggy episode, which we remember countering with a cynical, sardonic comeback that laid out our verbal assaulter. We cannot recall the specifics of these moments, now that really need them, because we weren’t really doing them. On some level, we recognize that we’ve been fooling ourselves, but we’ve incorporated so many idyllic images of so many characters handling so many situations with such adept fluidity that we’ve incorporated those idyllic screen images into our image of ourselves.

Another idyllic image occurs over time, in our interactions with peers. These images may be nothing more than a false dot matrix of carefully constructed, tiny mental adjustments made over time to deal with situational crises that have threatened to lessen our self-esteem, until we became the refined, sculpted specimen now capable of handling any situation that arises. These adjustments may be false interpretations of how we actually handled those previous confrontations, but we’ve preferred our rewrites for so long that they somehow became part of a narrative that we now believe.

We have all experienced moments in which we felt the need to correct a peer on the specific details of a past event, because their retelling of it to a third party is incorrect. When they don’t believe us, we invite others into the argument to augment it with overwhelming corroborating evidence. We are shocked when our peer refuses to acknowledge their error, even in the face of the corroborated account. At that point, we fear our peer must be delusional, and the only sane thing to do is walk away.

If we know them well, and we know they’re not delusional in general, we assume that they must be purposefully lying about the incident, spinning it to make themselves look better. We assume they need to colorize their role in it to boost their reputation and self-esteem. We think less of these confused, delusional, or lying individuals from a distance, and that distance suggests to us that we’ve achieved a place of honesty they never could.

After thoroughly condemning them, we encounter a similar scenario, only with the roles reversed. We won’t see it this way, of course, as a significant amount of time will pass between our confrontation and theirs, but my guess is most who confront the delusional experience someone who seeks to show us we have similar holes in our memory. It can be an eye-opening experience for those of us who strive for objective honesty, if we are able to see it for what it is.

✽✽✽

Lurking in the fourth layer of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we find esteem. Maslow states, and I paraphrase, this need for greater self-esteem, this need for respect, value, and acceptance by others is vital to one’s sense of fulfillment.[2] If esteem is so vital to our psychological makeup, what happens when one of our peers succeed where we fail? If we are able to convince ourselves that these successes are an exception to the rule, we find an excuse, but when others achieve that success in the same vein and the repetition is such that we can no longer find a suitable excuse for our lack thereof, frustration and confusion sets in. We might even find ourselves sinking into depression. To avoid falling further down this spiral, we develop defense mechanisms.

Mental health experts say that if these defense mechanisms are nothing more than harmless delusions and illusions, they can actually be quite healthy. The alternative occurs when the reality of these repeated situations begins to overwhelm us. This can result in clinical depression or other forms of regressed mental health. If this is true, where is the dividing line between using delusions for greater mental health and becoming delusional?

If an individual attains what they seek from delusional thoughts and they get away these delusions in the court of public opinion, what’s to stop them from using those tools so often that they’re rewarded with a better perception among their peers, along with greater self-esteem? Why would they choose to moderate future delusions? What’s to stop the delusional thinker from continuing down their delusional paths, until they begin to lose track of who they are, who they really are?

Most historical research dedicated to the brain focuses on its miraculous power to remember, but some recent articles suggest that the power to forget and misremember seminal moments is just as fundamental to happiness and greater mental health.[3] The thesis suggests that the brain distills horrific memories and horrible choices, and it eliminates them for the sake of better mental health, in a manner similar to how the liver distills impurities out for better physical health.

Thus, we could say our delusional peers might be actually recalling the incidents differently as an unconscious attempt to improve their mental health. Their account of what happened may not be true, but did they create it to deceive us? We don’t know the answer to that and each situation calls for independent analysis, but experience with such matters and extensive reading on the subject has led me to believe they may just be deceiving themselves onto an idyllic path, the one they need for better mental health. To take this theory to its natural conclusion, one could also say those in need of professional counseling may have opted for the bright and shiny delusional paths too often. They might have subconsciously omitted embarrassing details from their memory and forget some of the self-esteem-crushing decisions they made along the way. Some may have filled those gaps with the actions or words of their favorite scripted responses or actions from screen actors. By replacing and redefining the embarrassing details and self-esteem-destroying decisions with idyllic images and positive reinforcements, they’ve spent a little too much time in those bright, shiny forests of positive illusions and delusions. The power of these idyllic images have become so ingrained that they now need a professional to take them by the hand and guide them back to the truth that they’ve hidden so far back in the forest of their mind that they can no longer find it without assistance.

That therapist attempts to express what amounts to teaching the client how to know thyself better. They assist the client in attempting to rid their mind of the accumulation of illusions and delusions that the client used to create a sense of superiority. They attempt to remove the dot matrix, idyllic images used to forestall mental health issues, as well as the need for excuses for why they failed when others succeeded. To remove these subjective views, the therapist asks their client questions the client should’ve been asking themselves all along, to help them achieve some form of personal clarity.

Some of us are better able to keep track of ourselves, to gain personal clarity as we age and as a result of experiences, but clarity cannot occur without extensive reflection, and Abraham Maslow suggested that 2 percent of the people in the world reflect enough to achieve self-actualization.[4] The comprehensive term personal clarity is not necessarily moral clarity, but without guiding principles, it is impossible to achieve it. Clarity serves as subtext for morality and vice versa.

Of course, no human being can achieve absolute clarity, as we are all unsure of ourselves in various moments and we are insecure by nature. Nevertheless, some submit the red herring argument that because absolute clarity is nearly impossible to achieve, it is pointless to strive for it. They also submit that because there are no absolutes, they don’t understand why anyone would attempt to achieve clarity on any matter. I submit that reliance on anecdotal arguments invites the confusion that inhibits progress toward clarity, and that their argument that a thoughtful person always focuses on anecdotal arguments permits them to avoid trying to achieve a level of clarity.

The final hurdle in achieving clarity by knowing thyself arrives when we recognize that too much comparative analysis intrudes upon introspection, as seen in the Cartesian coordinate system exercise above. There’s nothing wrong with comparing oneself to others, of course, as it helps us clarify our progress and learn more about our identity. Too much comparative analysis might distract us from who we really are, in some cases, as we attempt to assimilate their characteristics into our own, and it can dilute the acute focus we need to jump through the hoops involved in knowing thyself better, however, it becomes counterproductive.

It is for these reasons that greater minds than ours have suggested that the path to greater knowledge, a better life, happiness, and more self-esteem exists somewhere on the path to knowing thyself better. They also suggest that too often, we spend too much time investigating superfluous minutiae. It’s a waste of time, they say, for people with too much time on their hands.

[1]https://thezodiac.com/soul/oracle/whentheoraclespoke.htm

[2]https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-maslows-hierarchy-of-needs-4136760

[3]https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-judith-rich/the-power-of-conscious-fo_b_534688.html

 

[4]http://www.deepermind.com/20maslow.htm

Post 400


Posted by Muyiwa Okeola

Posted by Muyiwa Okeola

This is the 400th post written on Rilaly.com since May 2009.  That’s almost 100 posts a year, and if you knew of this blog’s inauspicious beginning, you’d know that’s quite an accomplishment.  To celebrate this milestone, I will do my first jig in the comfort of my home, or the first jig I do in relation to Rilaly.com anyway.  I will make mean faces when I do it, and I may even slap my ass a couple times.  This is not to be misconstrued as sexual in any manner.  This is purely celebratory.  You’re welcome to join me, even if we’re not dancing simultaneously.Political columnist George Will says that he does not reflect on his career.  I do. He states that he is always looking forward. I’ve met a number of people that have accomplished far more than I have, and when I’ve congratulated them on their list, they usually shrug it off and qualify it in some manner.  While I wish I had their list, there does seem to be a part of them that hasn’t enjoyed the process.  Although my list may be comparatively meager, especially when stacked up against Will’s, I enjoy reflecting before I move forward.

“We do not live in the past, but the past in us.” (U.B. Phillips)

My favorite posts are those I’ve written that are not related to current events.  I’ve written political posts, news-related, music, and sports related posts.  I’ve really tried to limit the latter two categories, as I don’t want this to be a place solely for music and sports.  If I started down that road, that might be all I write about.  So, on the rare occasions when I’ve written about them, I’ve tried to do so in a creative manner.

When I get a number of ideas that all lock into place, under the general heading of psychology, but more specifically listed under a “strange things that we do” category, I approach the keyboard with adrenaline.  I think normal people can understand a lot about themselves by studying the strange. and sometimes aberrant, creatures that surround us. Psychology, as a whole, intrigues me, but the “look at this Escher painting and tell me what you see, and that will tell you a lot about perception” line of psychology is just boring to me.  The “why do you stop at a stop sign, why does a dog salivate when it hears a bell, and why do we call a table a table” broader questions of psychology and conditioning bore me.  I’d much rather study why some people are sexually attracted to balloons in the The Balloonophilia Conflict.  How, or why, did a division occur in the balloonophilia universe, between poppers and non-poppers, and is there anything in this particular story that says anything about us?  These are a few of my favorite things.

Why do some people try to box us in to who they think we should be based on who they are, and their limits, perhaps it has something to do with the Thief’s Mentality.  How are we attracted to one another, perhaps it has more to do with our natural, biological scents than those colognes and perfumes we buy: Every Girl’s Crazy About a Faint Whiff of UrineWhat happens when we’re afraid, and what happens when we’re not respectfully afraid enough in a given situation?  Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias.  These stories do not necessarily have tie-ins, as a sports, music, or political post would have, and the fact that I’ve received compliments on them tells me that they’re just well written.  The following is a top ten list of those most popular, according to readers, of these 400 posts.  Some of them have tie-ins, but they contain a loose connection that could be said to be more psychological rather than a straight news story.  I love top ten lists, and I’ve been dying to write my own, so here it is.  Enjoy!

  1. Indigo Children
  2. Let Your Freak Flag Fly
  3. Thief’s Mentality
  4. The Balloonophilia Conflict
  5. Every Girl’s Crazy About a Faint Whiff of Urine
  6. Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias
  7. I Hate Guitar Solos
  8. The Psychology of Being a Super Fan in Sports
  9. Kinesthetic Learning in Sports
  10. Charles Bukowski hates Mickey Mouse

I must admit I was a little surprised that the Indigo Children post did so well.  I guess it had more of a tie-in than I thought, but I’ve found that you can never predict these things.  The others were not a surprise to me, as I knew when I wrote them that they were quality posts.

The following is a top fifteen list, listed in chronological by the number of hits they’ve received, of the posts that I believe have been largely, and in my opinion criminally, ignored.  I was going to write another top ten list, but that would’ve meant excluding two of my favorite posts Mechanical Animals and Would you eat something someone cared about?  I honestly think that the top five listed here are some of the best posts I’ve ever written, and I would include Nobody Cares About You and Eat your meat! How can you show appreciation for life, if you won’t eat your meat?  It’s really tough for me to say that one of my babies is better than another, but this is a condensed list of my favorites.

  1. He Used to Have a Mohawk
  2. Chances are you’re a lot like me and my life with alcohol
  3. Oh! Our Electromagnetic Minds
  4. You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!
  5. Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and our Existential Existence
  6. Building the Better, Happier Person
  7. The Mythology of You
  8. Nobody Cares About You
  9. Eat your meat! How can you show appreciation for life, if you won’t eat your meat?
  10. The Wicked Flames of the Weird
  11. Food Glorious Food
  12. Mechanical Animals
  13. Do the Apophenia
  14. Details, Details, Details
  15. Would you eat something someone cared about?