Friday, November 28, 2014

How Should We Talk About Ferguson?

I don't enjoy being controversial. I used to enjoy it enormously. I used to like to make bombastic and over the top declarations, because I thought they were conversation/argument stimulants. I was a perfect creation of political talk radio.

I don't think that way anymore. I like to spend time thinking, keeping an open mind,  and considering things. I like to leave the door open on an idea or person for as long as possible. And one reason I write this blog is to invite people to take that thought journey with me. I have decided that the best place to begin with people who don't think like you is common ground. This may not be true, but this is where I am at right now. I have this belief that if you want people to listen to you, you should be nice to them.

With that out of the way, I can say what I want to say, which are my thoughts inspired by the picture above. I think I am on shaky ground here, and I am not 100% certain in the declaration I am about to make, but I am comfortable enough with my belief to put it in print and attempt to defend it:

With regard to the picture above: Talk like this is a conversation ender, not a conversation starter.

This is a variation of the statement "black lives matter" that has found its way onto many signs in many Ferguson protests in many cities across America, and the world.

How can you respond to that? The only people who truly don't care about black lives are unreconstructed inveterate racist reprobates who are only liked and respected by their friends and family who think like them. They are a very tiny portion of  the population, and they have little to no influence outside of their toxic circle. They are usually ugly, smell bad, have less teeth than should be expected, and we all know very few, if any of them. The rest of the country, which is the overwhelming majority of the country, care, to varying degrees of commitment, for the black community, as well as the rest of the colors of communities, while they're at it.

Because the community of racist-to-their-core reprobates is so tiny, it is ok to say that basically everyone cares about the general well-being and flourishing of all other lives in this country. How do I measure this? This is how I define "caring" at its most basic level: If you could, at no risk to yourself, pull a drowning person out of a river, you would do it. And it would make no difference to you what color their skin was. You would do it. That means you care if that person lives or dies.

But it all changes from there. The more risk, cost and effort it requires of you reveals your level of care. This is a moral and ethical calculation that every human performs, and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. For instance, I choose to spend the bulk of my time, money and effort on feeding my own children and seeing to their flourishing, and not flying to the other side of the world, leaving my own children, for the most part, hungry, and feeding strangers, instead. 99.9 percent of people would agree with my moral/ethical calculus, but isn't there something a touch barbaric in NOT devoting every waking moment to ensuring that all life lives, and then flourishes? But that's for another post. Unfortunately we are finite. Unfortunately we do not contain the ability to give adequate care to every thing and every person who requires it.

What am I saying? I am saying that we do all care about black lives, we all get the golden star on our sheet. But the protesters are saying that most of us need to care a little more than we do, and they are probably right. I personally wish they were nicer about it. I think talk like this puts reconciliation farther away. But that's just a matter of taste, as we all know there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Or fix a broken political/social system.

But to what extent are we supposed to "care more"? What does it looks like to "care more"? It's incredibly complicated, and there is not a right answer. And the answer is different for everyone. And there isn't just one problem. There's a lot of problems. And there are probably even problems that we haven't been able to even articulate. There are problems in the white community, and there are problems in the black community. We don't all have an equal share in these problems, and we don't all have an equal share in their solutions.

So what the f--- is it that we are supposed to do? I don't know. But talking about it probably helps. And being nice about it probably helps, even more. But even that is not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes people just need to get their anger out. If you can be nice, and hang in there with them through that, maybe they can get to what they actually think, now that they have that out of the way.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ways to Avoid the Normal Chitchat This Holiday Season

The Holiday Season kicks off in just two days—two days, people!

Now if you're like me—well, first of all, I'm sorry to hear that. But if you're like me (which means you're a raging introvert, you get nervous when talking to strangers—relatives you see twice a year qualify as strangers; holding up your end of the conversation can sometimes feel like holding up the Brooklyn Bridge, you linger in the bathroom at parties, you take random trips out to the car because you "forgot something," you are over-eager to speak with kids because they are more forgiving of your social problem, but even still you find a way to alienate them, the bastards; etc, etc.)

As you can see, fellow non-small talkers, I feel your pain. I jotted down some ideas this morning on how we might combat our complex. Feel free to add some of your own techniques or ideas in the comments section—and thank you in advance for not doing so. Because then I would have to find a way to thank you or validate you in a follow up comment, and I wouldn't know what to say, or I wouldn't do it right, and the whole thing would just be awkward and painful.

Ways to Avoid the Normal Chitchat This Holiday Season:

  1. Wear sunglasses and pretend you’re asleep.
  2. Ask people what THEY think about current events. No dialogue. Dialogue leads to argument. But just keep asking them what they think.
  3. “What ifs.” Instead of, how is work going, just start conversations with “what if.” What if you lost your job? What if baseball was never invented? What if thanksgiving was on a Tuesday? What if Jennifer Lawrence or Taylor Swift started flirting with me (something I’ve been worrying about lately)?
  4. Ask people what their hobbies are.
  5. Let everyone know that the news-industrial complex in this country is rotting out our brains. Ask them to boycott the 24 news cycle. You’ll have to think fast if they ask what that means, though, because I don’t really know. But if feels like it’s headed in the right direction.
  6. Hmm. Let’s think of a new way to talk about religion. Talking about religion is uncomfortable. But it’s a big deal, and I don’t like the idea of just leaving it out. Hmm. Maybe, ask people, if they had to invent a religion, what would be some of the components they would incorporate? What would be some hard and fast rules you would lay down? And then which rules would you throw in there that you know no one will ever keep, but for some reason you want to include them?
  7. If you want to end a conversation, just pull out your phone and start scrolling through your pictures, giving a detailed explanation for each one of them. Check every few pics to see if the person is still there.
  8. Keep your mouth full of food. (This is my usual go to when I am trying to avoid chitchat, but I’m on a diet this year, so I’m really going to have to reach for ways to still keep this as a viable option. Slower chewing? No chewing?)
  9. Movies! If you ever hear me talking about movies or televisions shows at a party, it is because I burned through the normal topics (work, school, family) in about 49 seconds. 
I wish all of my introverts much luck and success in this year's jungle of small talk. If you ever need any help know that you can't call me to talk about it—I will only exacerbate your issues. Give your mom or your lawyer a call—they are all too happy to keep you on the phone for as long as they possibly can.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How To Get Fired

"You'll pay for this."

From job after job my grandmother was fired.

"You'll pay for this," she would say. Sometimes she would say it while slightly waving a fist back and forth, for emphasis. The words would creep out of her mouth as she burned her eyes into theirs.

The store managers would try to reason with her, to explain the problem, but it never helped.

"You'll pay for this."

But they were right to fire her--she was a cashier and the customers did not appreciate her humor.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

If the Jig is Ever Up

If we ever find God on this earth, and it turns out that he wasn’t really God, but just a guy who never died, with magical powers enough to make us think there was a God, well, I don’t think we’ll be that mad at him. “Thank you for the experience,” we’ll say. But then we will find a way to kill him. Again, we wouldn’t be mad, but we can’t really let him keep it up, now that we know.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Steal From The Best

One of my heroes is the writer, Jack Handy. You may remember some of Jack's work from Saturday Night Live in the 90s. He would write these wonderfully bizarre and hilarious "Deep Thoughts." He's not topical, he's not crass, he's not relevant—he's just mind mindbogglingly hilarious.

I did an exercise where I ripped off his form. They are nothing close to what he does, but you've gotta start somewhere, right?

My attempts at Jack Handy-style jokes:

If a man wants to get hair to grow on his back, I don’t think it’s a problem to keep it caked with fertilizer and water it periodically. But my wife does.

People like to be flattered. But they don’t like to be faltered—that’s why it’s so important to know how to spell.

There’s nothing worse than an incomplete thought. Well there is one thing, but it’s immensely if you can put it down again.

We obsess about the order of words, but do you think the words really care all that much? I think they’re just happy to be noticed.

You know when you get down on all fours and follow your dog around ironically to get him to think about his position in the universe? Well they should make special pads for your hands and knees for that, it's a lot of work.

Apples probably think they’re pretty great, but I doubt pears have the same complex. But a pear can be good, too. Apples are just jerks.

If your name was Melvin, it seems like it would be a good idea to wear chaps, spurs and a six-shooter.

A funny thing to do with a can of cut green beans is to empty it out, fill it with fake eyeballs, reseal it, then wait for your spouse to open it.

If a shirt could talk, I think that it would spend so much time trying to talk itself through how it could have ever gotten to this point, that I think it would be years until it really had anything meaningful to say. And you would probably get so tired of it that you would throw it in the fire before it even got close. So actually, with that lesson learned, if your shirt ever does start to talk, just immediately throw it in the fire.

A lot of people think that kings have it the best in this world, but don’t you think that sometimes, late at night, kings think “I just want my mommy”? And if that’s true, that would mean that actually mommies have it best. But that’s a dumb idea.

If you were bleeding internally, it might help to swallow tons of paste. But I would also feel bad if you chose to try my theory instead of seeking medical attention, and then you died. But then I would stand over you and say, “Why did you listen to me? I’m not a medical professional, the blood is on your hands”.

I think that if you woke up to a robber in your house, a funny gag would be to say “finally!, I’ve been waiting for an accomplice.” But once you had his trust you would do a swinging back kick to his head, of course.

A good way to relieve stress, when you’re home alone, is to scream violent obscenities until you go hoarse. But make sure you don’t forget your kids stayed home from school, because it was a Saturday, because if they’re anything like my kids, they’ll be white as sheets.

You know, if God was really as big and powerful as he said he was, he would do a lot more lightning and miracles to impress us. Just goes to show that our heroes don’t always live up to our standards.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

10 Ways To Make Your Life Better

I was talking to my brother the other day, and I told him something that was true, but I just hadn't realized it yet. I'm an introvert, and a thinker, so I rarely open my mouth unless I know exactly what's going to come out. This is not an ideal mental profile for an aspiring creative type. If I'm not surprised by what I say, it's not very likely that anyone else will be, either. Surprise, spontaneity, unpredictability—these are all things you want, if you're alive.

I told him: I guess I've been waiting for my story to happen to me. I've been sitting around, tapping my foot, waiting for things to start to click—instead of realizing that in order for "my story" to happen, I actually have to go out and make it happen. To quote The Royal Tenenbaums—immediately after I said it I knew that it was true.

As we all know it's a symptom of our age: Andy Warhol rather casually informed us that we will all get our 15 minutes of fame. Man did that screw us over, or what? Between lottery tickets, viral videos, celebrities from every corner of the nation, proliferating like zombies at the Apocalypse, media outlets thirsting for more and more gossip/clicks/dollars, how is it that people are still getting out of bed and putting in a hard day's work when they could be the next YouTube star simply by yelling at their kid, dancing in their living room, or give a quirky interview to the news media?

I had a friend tell me once that he had an idea for a book, but he didn't want to write it until he was assured by a publisher that it would see print. Yeah, at the time I judged him for it, but brother, I don't know about you, but that's me, too. Not all of me, but a very large chunk, expects it to be handed to me. Now I have much too much pride and tact to admit this, or otherwise let it show, but I know it's true in the center of me that no one else can see.

You and I are hardwired to be lazy and take the path of least resistance. Committing yourself to the knowledge that you will undertake hard work is the hardest thing you will ever do.

That last sentence, it's not entirely true. But it is at least 60, 70 percent true, and that's pretty good. Especially for this half-cocked world we inhabit. The best sermons are the ones we need to preach to ourselves. This year I've tried to do something that I've never done before. From what little progress I have made, I can see that I will need to continually refer to the above list if I am to progress.