I wanted to briefly share a few interesting quotes from different sources I’ve come across over the past week or so.
From Yes! magazine:
Attaching our values of freedom to the market is not just dehumanizing. It also fails to recognize how one person’s ‘freedom’ of economic choice is another’s imprisonment in a life of exploitation and deprivation. There is no possibility for true freedom until we are all free, and this will only come through a much richer and deeper conception of human freedom than the one that consists of going to a grocery store and ‘choosing’ between 5,000 variations of processed corn.
I thought this was a wonderfully articulate snippet regarding the importance of shifting our views on freedom and capitalism. When we commit ourselves entirely to the idea of unbridled free market capitalism as the surest guarantee of personal freedom, we loose freedom in other ways, such as the freedom to live in a world with clean air and water and healthy plants and animals and ecosystems, among other things.
I read this in a copy of Yes! magazine I stumbled across– an exciting publication that “empowers people with the vision and tools to create a healthy planet and vibrant communities.” From the same edition I highly recommend the article, Get Apocalyptic: Why Radical is the New Normal.
Life has an unfortunate habit of abruptly becoming very busy, challenging, stressful, and overwhelming. In those moments it is important to step back, breathe, and realize that perhaps our big problems aren’t so big. Perhaps, much of our stress and worry is arbitrarily and unnecessarily self-inflicted. Perhaps much of the discomfort we feel is more a product of outlook than of circumstance, in which case it is easy to dispel. Perhaps life is too short to spend so much time buried in artificial misery, and it would be better to smile a lot and laugh a lot and say nice things to sad people.
When I find myself in need of a change in perspective, certain lyrics tend to drift through my mind- wonderfully apathetic and reassuring lyrics, from songs of peaceful resignation. I thought I’d share a few of my favorites:
1) “I’m gonna live it’s alright, I’m gonna die it’s alright, it’s okay”
— Good Old War (That’s Some Dream)
This is the phrase I come back to most frequently. It’s the chorus to a beautiful and soothing acoustic song by Good Old War, which, for me, has an incredible ability to shrink all of life’s problems down small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. This might be my favorite lyric of all time, man, just give it some time to sink in.
As I begin typing these words unto an empty page, I am fully aware of the onslaught of impassioned criticism my writing is bound to unveil. Admittedly, I am finding it somewhat difficult to type, for my hands tremor slightly at the mere thought of the incessant scorn that may forever befall my name. In fact, I must admit the word ‘slight’ in no way describes the violent shaking in which my hands are currently engaged, and it has taken no less than two full hours simply to formulate the past three sentences in a legible manner.
Yet I must persist. I must continue to type. For the fear that consumes me is dwarfed by the passion that pulses through every fiber of my being. Yes, it is passion that drives me on—that forces me to continue. It is passion for my cause, and sheer conviction in my beliefs, that shatters the icy embrace of terror, and forces me onward.
For no matter the response I receive, these words must be written. No matter what awaits me upon the publication of this document, be it humiliation, malevolence, or even death, I must make known my convictions. I must share with the world the ideas that have befallen my tortured mind. Listen closely now, as I impart my great epiphany upon you all. For the health, happiness, and longevity of our society, I have found it absolutely vital, that we, the people of the world, in grand and triumphant unison, cast off our rags of oppression, discard our garbs of injustice, absolve ourselves of our tyrannical habiliments! Yes, you heard me correctly. It is absolutely vital we cease to wear clothes.
Most etymological scholars agree this word can be attributed to a 15th century Irish improvisational comedy troop known as Dublin Over. The ten member comedy troop, which would reherse in an active barn, always began their meetings with the execution of an original dance. This ten member dance, or “ten-dance” as they called it, was initially used as a means of loosening up. However, as each group member played an integral role in the dance, it also became a reliable means of checking whether or not all group members were present.
The complex antics would go terribly awry if a single member was missing, leaving the entire party sprawled out in a bewildered heap. They found this terribly amusing, as well as utilitarian, and continued the practice with glee. Written evidence asserts that neighbors often heard the comedy troop remarking: “let’s have a ten-dance, then! See if anyone’s missing!” The term soon became widespread, and synonymous with taking role.
Per my father’s recommendation, I recently read Slaughterhouse-Five, a classic and exceptional novel by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. It follows the fictional Billy Pilgrim, an American soldier in WWII that is captured by Germans and taken to a prisoner of war camp in Dresden. The novels describes the tragic bombing of Dresden, a beautiful city that gets completely demolished, yet the novel is not purely historical.
At some point in his life, Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck” in time, which adds a very unique and surreal element to the story. He claims to have been captured by aliens, Tralfamadorians, who explain to him the true nature of time: that everything is predetermined and unchangeable. (They can see the entire past and future all at once.)
They put him on display at a Tralfamadorian zoo, and eventually return him to earth. Throughout the entire book, we (following Billy) jump sporadically to different times in his life. Billy attributes this time-traveling ability to his newfound understanding that our lives are already completely written. The author is deliberately ambiguous as to whether all this is real, or if Billy is merely delusional after a traumatizing experience in the war.
Either way, I thought the Tralfamadorians had some interesting things to say about time and destiny. There’s a great passage when Billy is in the Tralfamadorian zoo and somebody in the zoo crowd asks him what the most valuable thing he had learned on Tralfamadore was so far.Billy says “How the inhabitants of a whole planet can live in peace. As you know, I am from a planet that has been engaged in senseless slaughter since the beginning of time… If other planets aren’t now in danger from Earth, they soon will be. So tell me the secret so I can take it back to Earth and save us all: How can a planet live at peace?”
Billy thinks he just spoke “soaringly,” but the Tralfamadorians regard this as a stupid question, since they already know how the universe ends “and Earth has nothing to do with it, except that it gets wiped out, too.” Billy asks how it ends, and they plainly state, “We blow it up, experimenting with new fuels for our flying saucers. A Tralfamadorian test pilot presses a starter button, and the whole Universe disappears.”
Then comes the interesting part:
“If you know this,” said Billy, “isn’t there some way you can
prevent it? Can’t you keep the pilot from pressing the button?”
“He has always pressed it, and he always will. We always let him
and we always will let him. The moment is structured that way.”
I don’t really believe that everything is predetermined. But sometimes it’s nice to think that way. What a relief! What a burden off our backs to suddenly realize that everything is already set, and now we can just sit back and enjoy the ride. In the novel, Billy is certainly comforted by the idea that all the horrors he endured simply had to happen that way, and could not have gone differently.
Yet as the website Shmoop explains, that freedom and comfort comes at a cost. He surrenders his free will- his desire and ability to change and improve things: “He doesn’t prevent his son from going to war, he doesn’t attempt to remind people of the bombing of Dresden – nothing.”
I think the struggle to find a balance between acceptance and ambition is one of the most complex and important struggles that we as human beings face. So much of our unhappiness and conflict comes from not being able to accept things as they are. Western materialism is an important example.
We tend to think “If I only had a new car, a bigger house, a better phone…. then I would be happy.” We link our happiness to things; objects, achievements. But this “if..then” philosophy is an exercise in futility, because there will always be something newer and bigger and better, and so by not accepting what we have, we are unnecessarily preventing ourselves from being happy.
If you decide that what you have is what you want, then hey! Look at that! You have everything you want! Wasn’t that easy?
If everyone was perfectly content with what they have, would there be war? Would there crime? If we accepted everything that happens as perfect and unchangeable, simply saying “the moment is structured that way,” would there ever be sadness? Anger? Greed? Regret?
In the time I’ve spent in South America, I’ve found that many people there tend to lean toward this end of the spectrum. They are laid back and easygoing. I volunteered for 6 weeks in a community in the Paraguayan countryside, where I was thrilled by a standard response to the question “Que tal?” (How are things?”). People would reply “Tranquilopa,” a combination of the spanish “tranquilo” (calm, tranquil) and the indigenous guaraní, “opa” (everything, complete.)
Though they were poor and lived comparatively simple lives, the people seemed content to have and do very little. They would often sit for long periods of time, enjoying the company of friends and family, passing around a cup of tereré. Sometimes I would sit quietly with my host dad, just thinking and observing the scenery.
Coming from such a fast-paced, competitive, and demanding culture, it was a little unsettling at first to spend so much time simply sitting, but I soon had moments of profound appreciation for this way of life. Relax. Breathe. Take in the scenery. Enjoy the people you’re with. What else could you possibly need?
Towards the end of the trip, however, I began to grow a little restless once more. At some point, a beautifully accepting disposition begins to feel like a waste of potential. My ambitious American side, which has been exposed to the idea ‘you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it,’ since Kindergarten began to kick in, and I thought, Don’t you guys want to pursue something bigger?
For while there is power in acceptance, there is also merit to ambition. Not accepting things as they are is what drives progress and innovation. Why should we have to be cold, when we could be warm? Why should we have to die painfully of horrible diseases, when they could be cured? Why should we have to walk everywhere, when there could be speedier alternatives? Rejecting the status quo and seeking out something better is how mankind came to domesticate crops, discover the earth was round, invent the airplane, and build the computer. Almost all the great achievements of humanity are direct results of dissatisfaction. But perhaps, so are our biggest mistakes…
Life is short and everyone wants to live it to the fullest- as happily as possible. So the question is: is happiness best achieved through acceptance or through improvement? At what point should we strive for something better, and at what point should we simply accept things as they are? As with all things in life, I think the best solution is a balance. Everything in moderation. I suppose the exact ratio would be unique for everyone, but I think it’s important to remember that both are always viable options.
Many of us could probably benefit from letting go a little more often. When things don’t go our way and we find ourselves angry, frustrated, upset, or saddened, perhaps it would be useful to think: You know what? It’s okay. It’s perfect. That’s the way it had to happen. That’s the way this moment was structured. Perhaps then we can let go, and put our energy into something more productive.
On the other hand, there are certainly many of us that could be happier if we took more control over our lives and our world. Instead of just feeling sad or angry about something, confront it head on. Fix it. Do it. Make it happen. Get it done. In some circumstances, this is the best way to deal with the situations that befall us.
The right balance between these two approaches is infinitely difficult to determine, but important to contemplate. Kurt Vonnegut Jr., the author of Slaughterhouse-Five, was certainly aware of this struggle, and articulates it perfectly in a short poem that appears twice in the book:
GOD GRANT ME
THE SERENITY TO ACCEPT
THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE,
TO CHANGE THE THINGS I CAN,
AND WISDOM ALWAYS
TO TELL THE
While doing some research for a blog post that I will probably never publish, (a fate that befalls most of the blogs I start to write,) I learned that scientists have recently discovered a planet that could be habitable by humans. My initial reaction, sadly enough, was something along the lines of “hey, that’s great, because when we trash this one, we’ll have another in store.”
I felt that concept could make for an interesting song, and when I realized the “D” and the “g” in the planet’s name basically rhyme, making the name sing-able, I decided it had to be done.
This is my ode to the poetically named and utterly ineffable HD 40307g.
(Note: The video at the start is from “slatester,” the Slate News Chanel.)
It’s the year 2073
And the world’s no longer habitable by you or by me me
So it’s pretty clear we’ll simply have to leave
We’re headed for HD 40307g
I wish to speak to you briefly on the subject of bowling, for, by means of my casual pondering, it has come to my attention that this activity is inherently flawed. Perhaps irredeemably so. Perhaps, to the point where we will have no choice but to eradicate it from our society.
Whether you practice the activity casually or, more problematically, professionally, here is the intrinsic problem with bowling: There are no variables. There are no variables! If conditions are always exactly the same, where’s the skill?
This was not always the case. There once was a time where we could not produce perfectly level floors, or perfectly rounded bowling balls, and where there did not exist such universal standards for the length and width of a bowling lane, or arrangement of the pins. Back then, each time you bowled things would be different, thereby revealing the skill of the bowler, in their ability to adapt.
But those days are gone. We have perfected and conformed the sport of bowling to the point where there are no variables, and thereby, skill is determined predominantly by repetition. There is no opponent, and no variation in conditions, so someone who practices enough times should be able to get a strike every single time. And indeed, this has become fairly common. So the game is beat, done, antiquated, pointless, over.
Don’t get me wrong, I cannot bowl a strike every time. Most people can’t. So I suppose to the repetition-arily deficient, this activity continues to pose enough of a challenge to be enjoyable, and therefore should be retained. But still, I cannot escape an underlying sense of anxiety, a feeling of hamster-wheel-esk frivolity, at the notion of partaking in such a defeatedly perfected sport. Sure, to the casual bowler, the activity may still be challenging and fun. But troubled as I am by the fundamental paradoxicality of a sport, which we, as a society have clearly outgrown, it is my opinion that bowling should simply be eradicated.
Alternatively, the game could be updated. Rather than get rid of it completely, we could simply reintroduce variables. Perhaps we could add small mounds to bowling lane, or arrange the pins more sporadically. Perhaps we could move the activity outside, introducing weather variation. Surely, something must be done to differentiate one game from the next, reintroducing skill and variance to the saturated sport. Otherwise, bowling can be no more. For as Darwin’s theory of natural selection clearly illustrates, that which can not evolve, must perish.
This is a song I wrote a couple months ago, which was the winner of a songwriting competition my high school put on. I sing and play all instruments in the song except for some of the percussion tracks, which are prerecorded Garageband loops.
The song is about how finding myself in uncomfortable, difficult, or foreign situations, I have noticed the tendency to turn to those around me and constantly ask questions along the lines of “Is this right? Should I do this now? What would you do?” Wanting to be normal, it is easy to slip into this self-conscious, overly-reliant state, and simply mimic those around us, rather than attempt to act with genuine individuality.
This song is about the realization that it is a futile exercise, because the “normal” environment we seek is constantly changing, and following someone else entails that they will remain ahead, discovering and achieving things, while you lag behind. Normal is exhausting and dull. The song is meant to be invigorating, instilling a message that it is better to act in a way that’s free, genuine, and entirely your own. Take nothing for granted and hold nothing back.
(Note: Song sounds best with headphones or other stereo, not mono speakers.)
Seek approval of normality
Individuality, can wait its turn
Not easy to be alone, you see
Deciding everything, out in the unknown
Finding now that in reality
This impersonality, will just leave you cold
I find myself surpassed, you see
By the one’s who dared to act all on their own
Some inflated fear of failure, some fear of sticking out
Don’t you talk to loud, here let me show you how
No, no, you gotta kick the structures down
You gotta stand up tall and proud, dig up what’s buried in the ground
You gotta ask a lot of questions, argue all you can
Kick up some commotion, and stick it to da’ man!
Be intellectual and optimistic, search for underlying truth and meaning
Normality’s worth nothing in the end
Among the most pressing issues facing America today is our tremendous debt, currently looming around $14 trillion. Another issue? America seems to be quite depressed. A new study, sponsored by the World Health Organization interviewed nearly 90,000 people in 18 countries, and concluded that the US and France are the worlds most depressed nations.
So, we are deep in debt and thoroughly depressed… What can be done to address these issues? I think I may have a solution: Carnival-style urination games, (CSUG’s.) It is a bold and innovative idea, if I may say so myself, and it may be exactly what our nation needs to get back on track.
You know that carnival game you might find at an amusement park, the one where you race horses or cars by shooting water guns at a target? The more precisely you fire, the faster your racer moves…
I am currently residing in what may or may not be a distant and foreign land, (depending on the location of the reader.) The territory in question is named Gotland, and it is the largest island in Sweden. This place is not new to me; I’ve traveled here many times before.
My mother is from Sweden, and from this fact you might correctly infer that I have many relatives here. It has become customary for my family and my Aunt’s family to gather here on Gotland, at my Grandparents’ charming abode. This has occurred nearly every summer of my lifetime, but what separates this summer from the rest is my outlook on the expedition.
Previously, this has merely been a time to see the family, hang out, and play. This year, I’ve been trying to also utilize the opportunity to really learn about Swedish culture. You see, my game plan for life consists primarily of three things:
To understand as much as I can about what already exists
Apply that knowledge to somehow contributing to humanity
Have fun doing it
In the quest of understanding, a broad perspective is essential. And among the greatest ways to gain that perspective is through travel. I don’t mean traveling simply as a tourist set on sightseeing, but rather to immerse yourself in a foreign culture, and try to deeply understand the lifestyle of the people.
My cousin Corinna is excellent at this. She has spent the past year with her boyfriend Cameron traveling all across South America. Check out her blog, Ruta Surreal. I got to meet up with her for a couple weeks in Peru, and it was a fantastic experience. It’s fascinating, exciting, and important to see the way other people live, and in the past I’ve hardly paid any attention to all the cultural differences here in Sweden.
But this year, I’ve been trying much harder to do so, as I have found a new appreciation for the importance of travel. There are so many different people on this world, living so many different ways. The more we understand one another, the more capable we become of peace and of progress. It is surely human nature to fear the unknown, and common for violence to be driven by fear. And as each culture possesses their unique set of strengths and flaws, much can be gained by understanding others.
Only through the collaboration of different cultures can we create peace, end hunger, and finally conquer that pesky challenge of intergalactic travel. (Of course, at that point we’ll have to start the process all over again…) The greatest achievements of mankind will come with breaking down borders. We can start by at least traveling across them.
Just recently I purchased a new guitar off of Craigslist. I call it my new, old guitar because while it’s new to me, the guitar is actually about 35 years old. It’s a Yamaha g245 classical guitar, and it’s way cool. I love it already. My guitar teacher is a big advocate of classical guitars, even if you don’t play classical music. You can get a very decent classical guitar for super cheap if you buy it used, so I thought I’d give it a try.
Here’s a quick jam I recorded.
The cool thing about classical guitars is they’re comparatively small and really easy to play. They are equipped with nylon strings, rather than steel, making them easier on the fingers. I really like the tone of nylon strings as well. They don’t make as big of a sound as steel, (they’re not so great for shimmering open chords). But they do great with picking patterns, (which is a major purpose of classical guitars,) and I think you can get awesome sounds strumming or playing licks too, you just have to treat the guitar a little differently. Play a little softer.
The size of a classical guitar is really nice as well. It makes it easy to curl up on the couch or lay down in bed and strum on your guitar, which is something I was missing on my other acoustic. Also, the size makes it a little easier to travel with, which is one of the main reasons I got this guitar: to bring with me on my travels this summer.
One more thing I really love about this guitar is the wood. Guitars are apparently like cigars or wine in that they get better with time. When you get a new acoustic guitar you are required to humidify it to ensure the wood doesn’t crack. Over time, the wood settles into a cured state, and you don’t have to do this anymore. Also, older guitars are often made from better wood. There’s wood that isn’t available anymore, or only available in super expensive, high-end guitars, that is totally common in guitars from 30, 40 years ago. You can really tell the difference between quality, aged wood and brand new cheaper wood.
Buying used guitars is awesome as they’re usually way cheaper, have better wood, and have had time for the wood to settle. And in the world of acoustic guitars, I think there’s a lot to be said for a classical instrument.
This post is the first in what I hope to be an enduring and insightful series: “Words to Live by.” Loose thoughts are constantly flowing through a person’s mind. The beauty and the importance of writing is that it forces someone to focus, and really determine what it is they want to say. Occasionally I have a thought which I’m able to craft into something a little more concise and catchy than the usual flow of scattered ideas. These thoughts stick with me, and become recurring themes in my life. I thought I’d start to share some of these ‘words to live by’ which have become important motto’s to me. This is the first:
I have no regrets, only valuable, new experiences.
To explain this idea, I want to talk briefly about lucid dreaming. Dreaming fascinates me, especially lucid dreaming, which is the act of becoming conscious during your dreams. I’ve been reading through a very interesting book, Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, which has a chapter about “the building of dreams.” The book describes two different scenarios for a hypothetical dream. They both place you in a dimly lit city street, where you see a nearby figure, but you can’t make out who it is.
In the first scenario, you think to yourself maybe it’s a criminal who wants to mug me. And sure enough, it is a criminal who wants to mug you!! You run screaming, it is very scary, and you wake up in a sweat. In the second scenario you think Maybe it’s my friend, who was going to meet me to watch a movie. And believe it or not, it is your friend! You have a great time at the movies.
The book explains that in your dreams, your thoughts become the reality. This made me think that it is beneficial to have a totally positive outlook on life, for at the very least, this will ensure you will have good dreams. If you make it your habit to always see the best in every situation, then if nothing else, at least your dreams will be enjoyable. And I’m fairly confident your life will be too.
So in the pursuit of a positive outlook I devised this motto: I have no regrets, only valuable, new experiences. Challenge yourself to apply it. Try to think of nothing as a waste of time, or a failed endeavor. We are constantly learning from everything we do, and there is something of value in every moment we live.
Have you heard of Dr. Pepper 10? It’s a new soft drink hitting test markets across the US, whose claim to fame is that it has only 10 calories. Therefore, it is “manly,” and “not for women….”
Here’s one of the commercials, which positions the product for action-loving, monster-killing tough guys by saying, “Hey ladies, enjoying the film? Of course not! ‘Cause this is our movie, and this is our drink! It’s only 10 manly calories…”
I don’t get it. I don’t get how kind of dieting but not quite is manly. Why can’t these manly men drink a normal soda and then burn off the calories playing football and slaying dinosaurs? I don’t get why Dr. Pepper would initiate this ad campaign, which makes their drink unappealing to all women, and not-so-manly men. But most of all, I don’t get the math!
The bottle I picked up clearly displays four numbers, which just don’t add up.
Front and center the bottle cheers “10 Bold Tasting Calories.”
Underneath it says “Per 8 Fluid Ounces.”
Off to the side the label states there are “20 Calories per Bottle.”
It is also printed that there are 20 fluid ounces per bottle
Let’s do some manly math.
10 Calories ÷ 8 Fluid Ounces puts 1.25 calories in one fluid ounce.
1.25 calories x 20 Fluid Ounces per bottle = 25 calories in a bottle
I’m not sure which part is wrong, but all the parts definitely aren’t right. There aren’t 10 calories in this drink, or even 20, but, it appears to be, 25. It’s strange to me that they would put so much emphasis on the 10 calorie thing, which clearly doesn’t apply to this bottle, or to any bottle! There’s 10 calories per 8 fluid ounces, and Dr. Pepper is never sold in 8 ounce containers. Cans are 12, bottles are 12 or 20, soda fountains usually don’t have 8 ounce cups either. You cannot buy a Dr. Pepper 10 and drink only 10 calories, (unless you carefully split it with your he-man buddy).
There is one more interesting surprise that comes with Dr. Pepper 25. Maybe because the label is occupied with calorie contradictions, it fails to include any obvious mention of the caffeine boost. There’s a ton of caffeine in here! 4.2 mg per ounce. That means 84 mg in the bottle, where a normal Dr. Pepper would have only 68. That’s a sly 24% increase, unbeknownst to the common consumer. I guess manly men are doped up on caffeine. Just not to their knowledge…
The one thing I know for certain about this drink, is it is NOT for woman. Maybe because women can count, and don’t get as easily distracted by challenges to their manliness. Girls, don’t be offended at what may feel like a sexist ad campaign. Be honored that you weren’t dragged into this nonsense. Manly men, enjoy your new soda! Just don’t think about it too hard, it’ll make your head hurt.
UPDATE: It appears the folks at Dr. Pepper read my blog. The math now seems to add up.