You Are Not Always the Exception to the Rule

We all tend to assume that we are better than average drivers, more intelligent, more reasonable, and nicer than most people. But we cannot be ALL those things.

We may be all those things to someone, but generally speaking, for most people, you are the rule. You are average nice, average smart, so on, so forth.

What you think of yourself may be who you are to you, but it’s what do who makes you who you are to the world.

Actions > Thoughts

Every. Time.

Four Lighthearted Films for Gloomy Days

1) Galaxy Quest Ostensibly a comedy satirizing Star Trek and programs of its ilk, Galaxy Quest eventually evolves into a heartfelt tribute to fans and those worlds that have been the pursuit of many after-school hours. Complete with alien wars, geeky convention fans and gratuitous cleavage shots, it’s an underrated gem for anyone who’s ever gotten a tad, ahem – overzealous – about a favorite TV show.

2) Monsters, Inc One of the main characters is a baby, and the other is a giant fuzzy monster who loves her. ‘Nuff said.

3) Paris, Je T’Aime A series of vignettes about love and lust in the world’s most romantic city. Perfect for when you want a portrait of human emotion but without complex plot. Featuring a medley of big names (Wes Anderson, Elijah Wood, Juliette Binoche) and stunning shots of the city, it’s a feel-good film for film snobs, but can be enjoyed by anyone.

4) Clue Classic comedy which is less of a tribute to its namesake than it is an homage to classic screwball films, English manor-house mysteries, and the Red Scare. Tim Curry proves how delightful he can be when he commits himself to a character, deliriously funny even as the main character in a movie that based on a family board game.

clue poster

Food for Thought: Some Conventional Wisdom of Addition, Upended

Recently, I stumbled across two interesting posts, both of which question some traditional wisdom about drug addiction. One addresses an oft-cited study in which rats developed an addiction to morphine. Yet, another study showed that the rats, if given a larger cage and an enriched environment (toys, other rats, etc.) will not develop the same dependency even if given easy access to morphine.

Additionally, Forbes posted about researcher Carl Hart, a neuropsychopharmacologist* at Columbia, followed the numbers and found that the commonly held wisdom that crack and meth are irresistibly addictive is heavily exaggerated.

*That title is a mouthful.

In Defense of Fiction

I’ve always been a fan of the fiction section of bookstores. I’m particularly fond of mysteries, and have that soft spot for young adult (although who doesn’t? Hungergames, amiright?). In adulthood, I have run across those people who explain to me that they prefer nonfiction, because why read something that isn’t true, if they can boost their knowledge by spending that same time learning about the real world?

I want to be clear; no one can turn their nose up at good nonfiction, and I’m not knocking anyone’s nightstand escape. Real life offers a rich narrative and unexpected twists. Stranger than fiction, indeed. Nonetheless, it is impossible to create the same experience that you get within a novel or a short story.

With fiction, you are seeing the world through another person’s eyes. It may be a world populated by purple flying gorillas, but that doesn’t detract from the remarkable exercise in empathy that fiction affords. No nonfiction novel could  capture every impression and conversation with perfect accuracy, it’s fairly established that the more authoritative the text, the dryer it tends to be.

Because to get that color, that stream of consciousness, you have to delve into the realms of making shit up. And what fantastic depths they are – because increasingly, research indicates that reading fiction might boost empathy, reduce anxiety, and help with decision making.

I was a voracious reader as a child, not necessarily of highbrow classics (although they’re generally famous for a reason) but of a mess of things. I fully believe that many of the adults traits I’m proud of were coaxed into being during the hours that I spent awake, after my bedtime, pouring over James and the Giant Peach.

There’s a fantastic talk by David Foster Wallace (confession: I’ve still never read Infinite Jest) in which he describes how you have the power to make your mundane tasks into less frustrating experiences by seeing the richness of possibility within the people around you. Wallace once said that good fiction should make readers “become less alone inside”. He was on to something, both with his talk and with his belief. And while I enjoyed his talk, it wasn’t a revelation to me. Not because I have any sort of genius that he possessed, but because I already learned that secret in the fiction section of my local library.

The secret that every person is the protagonist in their own story.

Everyone has love interests and betrayals and moments of doubt, they have side characters and dramatic irony and villains and comic relief. In someone’s story you are the unrequited love. In another person’s story, you might be the foil to their loneliness, or an oppressive representation of the patriarchy, or merely an extra, setting the background in their bustling shopping scene.

This remains one of the most important realizations I’ve ever had. It is boosted and ripened, not by my intellectual understanding that everyone has a consciousness, but rather by years of practice through literature. Rude baristas and slow drivers and impatient coworkers don’t have the disrupting effect that they could – not because I’m immune to them, but because I have years of training my brain to explore perspectives not my own. In life, you don’t often get to form the deep connections with people outside your social orbit that would allow you to feel their experiences in a way that narrative allows. It gives you permission to try on a different time, social class, perspective, race, gender, sexuality, body. You don’t have to worry about mirroring back their feelings or being respectful. You can merely slip in, undetected, and explore another person’s mind. It’s doesn’t matter if it’s not realistic – that’s not the point. The point is that you are giving your brain a remarkable chance that it doesn’t get nearly often enough in real life.

If there is one piece of advice that I could bestow upon new parents, it is, unequivocally, to encourage their children into little librarians, cultivators of their own personal castle of stories. I know that mine is, undoubtedly, responsible for much of the person I am today.

Dealing with the Mundane

The great challenge of adulthood, as I see it, is not work or bills or remembering annual doctor’s appointments…those things are difficult enough, but they’re not really the crux of the matter.

The big thing is staying engaged in your own life when it becomes so repetitive. The first 20 years of your life are spent in a constant state of anticipation. Soon you’ll be starting school, starting camp, starting high school, starting college, graduating….And then suddenly you’re left to navigate all life advancements on your own.

Except these next steps are different; they are bigger. You are not committing to a summer abroad or four years of schooling, you are committing to a career, to a new hometown, to be with someone, for better or worse, for the rest of your life. And they move so slowly.

With years of being taught to constantly anticipate the next step, it’s no wonder people rush into decisions that should be made with gravity.

And no wonder it’s hard to pick a career. A lifetime of being taught to anticipate next steps, and suddenly you’re thrust into a world where a big part of success is in the boring details.

There isn’t really a solution here. There’s no getting rid of traffic and dishes. There’s no changing the fact that most of life’s problems…heartache, frustration at a dead end job, debt, illness…most of those problems are fixable, but not easily. They are entrenched demons that you will have to keep fighting ad nauseum.

I think for me, the only thing to do is hold on to autonomy where you have it. If that’s keeping your desk clean, and eating popcorn for dinner even though you know it is bad for you, so there. Or choosing to assume the woman who bumped into you did so because she’s rushing for a meeting, not because she’s thoughtless. And not to worry if red lipstick looks stupid on you or not.

And maintaining relationships. That one is hard work. There are so many awesome people out there, but if you try to develop close relationships with all of them, you’re just going to be pulled into way too many different directions. Despite the insurmountable issue of not-enough-hours-in-the-day, lots of research has shown that personal relationships are one of the most important factors in determining happiness.