Modern literature and pop culture is rife with references to broken hearts. From Whitney Houston to Shinedown, from Nora Ephron to Rupi Kaur, from New Girl to Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, you can’t turn around without bumping into someone who has survived a broken heart, is surviving one now, or is about to suffer through the debilitation of having their heart ripped out of their chest and stomped on.
And yet, this imagery has never rung true with me. The most glaringly silly example that I can think of is Padme dying of a “broken heart” at the end of Revenge of the Sith, and I’m not the only one who thought this was silly, albeit for different reasons.
The imagery of a broken heart carries with it the idea that something inside of you is broken and in need of fixing, when the opposite is actually true. When someone betrays you or acts in such a way that is contrary to what you were expecting, it is not an indication of some short-coming within yourself. It is in indicator of something missing within them.
Setting aside the fact that your (emotional) heart is located in your head and not your chest, I prefer to think of the heart – that part of you that feels and cares and loves – as an ever-evolving entity that is constantly changing and growing. It is not stagnant; it learns new things, forgets old pains, overcomes previous prejudices, perseveres onward.
When I was young, my mother and step-father tended to punish my sloppy ways by yelling at me or threatening me with a beating with one of my orange Hot Wheels tracks, but occasionally they’d get fed up with trying to correct my behavior, so they’d gather up all of the comic books I’d left lying around and throw them in the burn barrel. My ten-year-old self was traumatized by this betrayal, but it didn’t break my heart. It was an experience I internalized.
When my first marriage ended, I truly felt broken. Not in the “oh-how-will-I-go-on?” sense, but more in the “what’s-wrong-with-me?” sense. I felt I had failed in one of the most basic tasks in life, making a home with a partner. How could I possibly be successful in any other endeavor if I couldn’t do this one simple thing properly? However, I was still able to fully function on a day-to-day basis, so obviously I wasn’t that broken.
Over time, I have come to realize that the heart doesn’t truly break. It takes on more experience, letting old situations go in favor of new ones. My heart is not the same today as it was when I was ten, or thirty. And yet, it’s the exact same heart I’ve always had. How is that even possible?
When something is broken, it doesn’t work any longer. Well, that’s not entirely true – even a broken clock is correct twice a day. But for all intents and purposes, a broken clock is useless for anything more than decorating the wall in the guest bathroom.
The heart, I’ve found, is more resilient than that. With apologies to both John Mayer and Celine Dion, rather than being broken and in need of repair, the heart goes on, continuing to feel and care and love despite all indications to the opposite. And with each new joyous experience, an older, more painful experience is expunged, until one day you feel whole again, and capable of once again giving your heart to someone. Your same old heart, though experience and attrition, has become something new.
Man, dating really sucks. At any age, but more so as you get older.
I’m not a really a go-to-a-bar-and-meet-someone kind of guy. I’m not terribly social. So, my only option, particularly in this time of quarantines and pandemics, is online dating. Which is the absolute worst.
Online dating is much like social media for single people. Between inaccurate (or totally fake) profile pictures and messages that never get returned, there is a decided cowardice and lack of respect in lying to and then ghosting someone. And from stories I’ve heard from female friends, it’s endemic to both sides of the aisle, as it were.
And when did “I love tacos!” become a way to demonstrate your date-ability?1 C’mon, now – aim higher. Everyone loves tacos. And hiking. And being on the water. And world peace.
The one thing that dating HAS done for me is to grow more comfortable talking about myself. In fact, dating off-and-on over the past nine months has helped me develop a bit of a spiel that I can jump into, at any point along the continuum, to keep an awkward first (or second) date moving along.
I’ve written about some of this before, in previous blog posts. Here, then, is the more detailed, expanded version – The Origin of 56-year-old Steve: The Special Edition:
I’ve spent the last four or five years jumping from one interest to the other. It started with music, and continued with a renewed interest in math, followed by dabbling in computer programming, and then delving deeper into philosophy…but wait, it goes back farther than that.
I was a decent enough student in high school. I could have been a straight-A student had I applied myself. However, that was not the case. I piddled around the entire four years. My final two years of high school were marked by my step-father dying, leaving my Mom as a single mother having to work to earn money to raise me, my four-year-younger sister, and my twelve-year-younger half-brother. Money as always tight, and she did the best she could.
But college was never really an option as I began my senior year. The focus was solely on me finishing high school so that I could get a job and start supporting myself. So a few weeks after graduation, I found myself delivering pizzas for Straw Hat Pizza for nine months, then it was off to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX, for USAF basic training.
Two years into my military service, I was married to a fellow service member. We spent five years overseas together, then four more years in Denver, CO, before calling it quits. We split up shortly after I left the military (she had retired once we returned stateside), and I was on my own for a while.
Another whirlwind romance that ended in disaster brought me to Oklahoma, and this is where I’ve been for the past twenty-six-plus years.
Somewhere along the line, I began to regret not having concentrated more on my studies when I was in school. I went back to school, getting a business admin degree from the local community college. I dipped my foot in the pool of an actual B.A. program at OSU-Tulsa.
My kids are super smart – much smarter than I was at their age, and certainly much smarter than I am now. They began feeding me interesting YouTube videos. At first it was VSauce videos – Michael Stevens’ deadpan delivery of interesting science facts and thought experiments was extremely engaging. Then one of them started sending me Grant Sanderson videos, and we were off to the races.
I can still clearly recall one video where Sanderson was attempting to explain calculus in layman’s terms (relatively speaking), and I had a light bulb moment ten minutes into the video.
In this particular video, which was part one of a ten-part “Essence of Calculus” series2, less than ten minutes into the lesson, Sanderson clearly and concisely explained how, when solving for the area of a circle, you are actually solving for the area of a right triangle, and my mind, to say the least, was blown. I distinctly remember thinking to myself (and repeating to anyone who would listen), “If I’d had someone teach me this in high school, I’d be a rocket scientist by now!”
I immediately hit Kahn Academy and began relearning all of the algebra I’d forgotten over the years.
In the meantime, I’d become enamored with British mathematician Matt Parker and his YouTube channel, Stand Up Maths. He is also a frequent guest on another great channel, Numberphile. One of my favorite parts of Matt’s videos is, on occasion after working something out on butcher paper or a blackboard, will then reveal that he wrote a quick Python program to verify his results. That sealed it – I had to learn computer programming!
. . . . .
My most recent obsession, philosophy, is another thing entirely. And yet, more of the same.
I’ve always been interested in philosophy – my first blog post dealt with stoicism, and that was almost two years ago. This time, I decided to approach it with the same academic rigor that I’ve explored math, science, and computer programming over the last few years. I started at the beginning with the father of pre-Socratic philosophy, Thales, and have been steadily moving forward through the different schools of thought over the last 2,500 years.
One of the things that fascinates me most about the study of philosophy is that the earlier philosophers had nothing else to go on but their five senses and their minds, and yet were able to develop such insightful, and often (overly) complicated explanations for everything.
While there existed schools of thought that invoked the four classical Greek elements (fire, water, earth, air) there was a school called the Atomists that supposed that everything was made up of smaller, unseen particles called atoms that actually made up everything we see – and they came to this conclusion 300 years B.C.E, nearly 2,000 years before the Janssen brothers in 1590 C.E.!
But more to the point, the early philosophers never gave up, and never stopped building upon the thoughts and ideas of their forebears, sometimes eloquently expanding on their ideas, sometimes developing totally new ideas and doctrines.
And that, more than anything, defines how I’ve overcome that lack of desire (and, to be honest, motivation) and am now attempting expand my horizons through the faux-academic study of things that interest me. I keep building upon what I’ve learned previously, always striving to expand my knowledge of the world around me. Or, in the words of philosopher Stephen West, to always “know more today than I did yesterday.”
The key (for me, anyway) is, word for word, to always keep moving forward.
. . . . .
Self-proclaimed “snarky dating poster” Sarah Kehoe tweeted something to this effect – @sarahkehoe. If you have a Twitter, follow her!
If you haven’t had a chance to check out my first book, “What I’ve Learned: Random Thoughts on Various Subjects,” now it the perfect time! Bounce over to http://bit.ly/what_ive_learnedand pick up a paperback copy, or download it to your Kindle!
One of the coolest things about immersing myself in some subject with which I already have some passing familiarity is being able to see how my views have shifted over the years. Streaming all four seasons of The Good Place recently has led to a reignited interest in philosophy in general. Since it’s been a hot minute since I’ve given philosophy any real thought or consideration, I decided to start from the beginning. And by that, I mean literally the beginning of philosophical thought, with Thales and the other pre-Socratic philosophers, of which I knew very little.
Another cool feature of this is that, as each new idea is presented and explained and demonstrated as a step forward in the evolution of philosophical thinking, I find myself going through the usual three stages of learning something new:
Oh, that’s cool! I never thought of that!
Oh, this is actually bullshit. Why did I think that made sense?
Oh, this new bit of information is cool! I never thought of that! (see step #1)
With the study of philosophy, this constant cycle is significantly heightened. What makes sense one minute is revealed to be limited and not very insightful in light of subsequent thoughts, findings, and techniques. I’ve spent the last week reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching YouTube videos that (more or less) follow the development of philosophical thoughts and ideas from roughly 650 BCE up through today.
I’m quickly finding that the philosophers I relate to most closely are the ones who took action. Whether it is Thales laying the groundwork for future philosophical thought, or Pythagoras starting a new cult to prove that math is the language of the kosmos, or Plato utilizing the Socratic method of constant, insightful questioning to arrive at a conclusion, or Karl Popper questioning the scientific methods of Freud (pseudo-science) in comparison to Einstein (actual science), the philosophers that resonate with me are the ones who not only thought of something, but also did something about it.
Acta non verba – action, not words.
I mentioned in my previous post all of the changes I’ve attempted to make in 2020. While nullius in verba has become the defining principle of my life now, coming in close second is acta non verba. I have wasted so much time waiting for something to drop into my lap – financial success, new jobs with better pay, new passions – and I have largely been lucky in the sense that I’ve lived a bit of a charmed life compared to most.
How much more happier would I be, then, if I’d actually expended more than just the minimal effort required to reach my goals – if the fruits of my labor were a direct result of the effort I’d put into a task or activity? This is the true nature of the experiment I’m engaged in now. I seek to answer the question: what if I actually took control of my life and went after the things I desire, rather than just sit back and hope they will drop into my lap somehow?
It may very well be that I’m setting myself up for misery, or disappointment, or a fate worse than death – third marriage, anyone? But I don’t believe that to be the case. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that in the long run, I’ll meet with more success than failure. And isn’t that really what we all desire? To be successful more often than we fail?
If the ultimate goal of life is to be happy while minimizing (or eliminating) the sadness and dissatisfaction of others, then how much sweeter would that taste if it was by my own design rather than the luck of the draw, or fate? That may come across as a bit selfish, but that certainly is not my intent. I say it in this sense: How much more satisfying is it to be the master of one’s own fate, rather than leaving it to chance or the gods or God (or whatever your particular belief system happens to be)?
So, these are the questions I seek to answer, and I will be doing it via concrete action instead of mere rhetoric – acta non verba.
I got my fourth tattoo today from Niah and the fine folks at Black Gold Tattoo here in Tulsa, OK. It had been a number of years since I have gotten any new ink, and today seemed like just as good a day as any. It is my brother’s birthday as well, and he is a tattoo nut, so this is in part for him as well.
The reactions have run the gamut from “Wow, cool!” to “But why?”. To those on the lower, disapproving end of the spectrum, I played it off as just something I wanted to do, or simply replied, “Why not?”
But the truth is that this phrase is the most important thing I have learned thus far in 2020, which is saying a lot. So far this year, I have had to learn to live on my own again, I have taught myself ukulele, I have tried to learn Python, I have begun studying philosophy again. Yet all of these things pale in comparison to the effect these three simple Latin words have had on my life in 2020.
Nullius in verba is Latin for “on the word of no-one.” More loosely translated, it is taken to mean “think (or do) for yourself.”
I have spent much of my life doing was I was told to do, believing what I was told to believe. From my religious upbringing, through my military service, through my varied jobs in the private sector, and through two failed marriages, I have always tried to do what I thought the other party felt was right.
Perhaps I paint with too-broad strokes here – it is not like I was a robot following orders. I have had my fun, and made my share of stupid mistakes that were 100% my idea alone. However, there were definitely times where I felt like an automaton, and this characterization is probably pretty accurate more, often than not.
This year, one of my (many) foci has been to attempt to figure out where I belong, where I fit in to the grand scheme of things. Everything else – ukulele, coding, philosophy, etc. – has been window dressing for the real search, the search for personal meaning and validation.
What these three simple words remind me of is this: there is no better judge of things than myself.
Does this mean I completely dismiss the words of subject matter experts and authority figures? Absolutely not.
What it DOES mean is that everything that is meaningful is also independently verifiable. Am I going to run my own lab tests to ensure the eventual COVID-19 vaccination works? Of course not. But will I pay more attention to who it is that is telling me that it works? Absolutely.
Am I going to vote for someone simply because they are a registered Democrat, or against someone because they are a registered Republican? Nope, not anymore. I have taken the time to actually delve into what each individual candidate stands for, what each individual ballot measure means and what the pass/fail ramifications are.
Closer to home: am I going to stop forcing my will on others because it is what I think is best for them? Can I accept that others know what is in their best interest, just like I have some idea of what is in my best interest? Hopefully.
And these are just a few of a million little things that bears closer scrutiny, starting with myself. It will be the ultimate introspective exercise. Socrates (via Plato) once indicated that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and this is precisely what he meant. I’ve wasted so much of my life believing one thing and disbelieving another, simply because it was easier to follow the crowd instead of expending a little extra time and effort to do the research myself.
I have many fond memories of my mother, both with my Dad and
after they divorced when I was eight. This, however, isn’t one of them.
I was cleaning out a cabinet today and ran across a manila envelope. Within, I found two typewritten sheets of paper – it was undated, but it refers to an incident that occurred while driving with my younger brother Eric, and it (apparently) occurred before he was driving, so that places it somewhere between 1982 and 1991 or so. It has all the earmarks of being a letter to the editor, most likely to The Bakersfield Californian.
Here it is in its entirety – typos, bad grammar, and all:
“Get A Real
Job – Be A Housewife”
Today my son and I
was this really great license plate frame, it said, “Get A Real Job – Be A
Housewife!”. I told my son, I would really like to have one. I made that
choice back in 1963, rather than going to work in an office. I wanted to raise
my own Children. I was a single parent for a while and it was not easy, but we
Back at that time,
late 60’s & 70’s, it was an acceptable choice, today it seems it is not.
Today it is felt that if you stay at home you do nothing, but in fact it is a
24Hr. a day job, no salary, you work harder then most people in the working
world, outside the home.
I really believe
there would be less problems with our kids today if they had a stay at home
Parent at least through their formative years. We need more stay at home
parents to take care of their children. No guarantee. “But what do parents
expect, when they are not at home, remember these kids need guidance and love
from you, your values, not a stranger, they are your Responsibility! There is
also nothing wrong with a stay at home Dad either in fact in some cases the Dad
is the better choice.
If you were to ask
inmates especially the younger ones why you are here, the majority said when I
was growing up no-body was at home to care, so why should I. No Excuse!
The only draw back
I have found is if you look for a job after “Just” being a housewife,
they tell you that you are not qualified no work experience, no real skills. I
have felt like taking my kids as refrences. We really have a wide range of
skills, more then just your adverage worker.
Stay at home
parents have to stand together with heads held high. We are doing an honest
days work for no pay, no 1hr. lunch break, no dinner break, 7 days a week
24hrs. a day.
There are rewards
too, like when for years you tell your kids something and you wonder if they
hear you, but then the day comes you hear the same thing coming out of them and
you realize, hey they really heard what I said, it’s a great feeling. There are
a thousand rewards, each milestone, special achievements, graduations,
weddings, just to mention a few. The kids are so proud to have you there, just
the look on their faces when they see you. I wouldn’t change a thing I did.
These rewards are
wonderful and worth more then mear money could buy! Your building Memories.
these children are our future, you need to Invest Now!
She makes some really good points (and thankfully, she called out stay-at-home dad’s, as well – something I did for a number of years with our twin boys). More than that, though, it was a surreal thrill, reading words I didn’t know existed from a mother that has been gone for nearly fourteen years.
The most fascinating thing to me, though, is that she perfectly captures exactly how I remember her – always there, always taking care of us, always caring about us.
She was a true working mother, in that she gave everything she could to my sister, my brother and I, working day and night to make sure we wanted for nothing. Not all of her decisions were the right ones, but she did the best she could with what she had, and no one can fault her for that.
It’s surprising to me, actually, how many of the songs that
are in my current playlist have to do with endings.
I ordinarily have just one working playlist. When I grow
tired or bored of it, rather than just create a new one, I’ll delete it and
start over fresh. It can be anything from a mood change to hearing an old song
that I forgot about to just being discontented with my current soundtrack, but
it doesn’t take much for me to blow everything up and start fresh.
I don’t ordinarily have themed playlists, at least not
beyond “current faves” or something equally trivial. So it came as a
bit of a shock when I played a number of songs in a row that dealt with
…and if it’s over, just remember what I told you
it was bound to happen so just keep, movin’ on
there’s no perfect endings…
I enjoy a little Straylight Run now and then, and The
Perfect Ending is one of my favorites. Formed as a side project by two members
of the alt band Talking Back Sunday, they tend towards more moody, contemplative
pop. Great for early morning drives to work in the early morning light.
…for once I’m at peace with myself
I’ve been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for
I’m movin’ on
I go through my country phases now and again, but Rascal Flatts
is about as country as I get these days (see what I did there?). I enjoy the
country-pop sound of Rascal Flatts – having grown up on ELO, Chicago, and the
like, there’s a certain appeal for me in the straightforward love ballad. I’m
Movin’ On fits the bill nicely.
…I’ll be the one if you want me to
anywhere I would have followed you
say something, I’m giving up on you…ˆ
A know very little about A Great Big World beyond the fact that they never should have let Christina Aguilera within fifty miles of this song. Their “solo” version of Say Something is stunning in it’s simplicity, and is a mainstay of my “mellow” playlists. Plus, it’s super easy to play on the piano, making it a mainstay of my piano setlist on the rare occasions I abandon my guitar for my keyboard on a gig.
…and if you were to ask me, after all we’ve been through
do you still believe in magic? yes, I do
yes I do, of course I do…
It wouldn’t be a mellow playlist without at least a couple
of Coldplay songs, and this tune, written in the midst of a divorce, always surprises
and impresses me with it’s hopeful ending. After the crushing lonliness and
defeat, Chris Martin reveals in Magic that he is still able to see the light at
the end of the tunnel, still able to believe in the magic of love even as it
dies in his own life.
I am ready to be new again
I’m ready to hear you say
who I am is quite enough
Not an “endings” song per se, but still an upbeat alt-rocker in the same vein as the other songs in this list. New Again by Taking Back Sunday puts a nice endcap on things – after all the teeth-gnashing and navel-gazing of the previous songs, New Again strikes a hopeful chord, reveling in the fact that I know I’m good enough, I’m just waiting for you to admit it, too. It’s a nice counterpoint to Say Something, in which the singer admits defeat; here, the singer isn’t giving up, and is determined to see things through to the bitter end.
There is nothing more jarring than waking up to the truth.
Granted, truth can be an extremely subjective thing in this
context. Can’t that be said about all truths, though? We take it for granted that
the sun will rise in the morning, but we can’t know it for certain. We can make
the assumption, based upon past experience, that the sun will rise, but we don’t
– we can’t – know it until it actually happens.
But what if we lived in denial of this fact? What if we’d
spent the last ten years telling ourselves that it wasn’t the sun that was
rising, but it was actually something else? An enormous flaming chariot, for
instance, ridden across the sky every day by Helios, as the Greeks believed?
And then came the morning that you arose from bed, looked
out across the plains at the horizon, and suddenly you saw the sun for what it
was – middle-sized star? And you also realized that the rotation of the planet
every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds was what caused the sun to rise, and
not some mythical, fiery figure riding his flaming chariot across the sky?
To wake up to a truth of this magnitude can really mess with
your day, let alone your week, month, or life. Maybe you’ve always suspected
it. Maybe it never made sense. But it was always so much easier to believe the
lie you told yourself, because the alternative was/is unpleasant.
Still, denial is a powerful ally. It is so much easier to
maintain the status quo, to tell yourself that you’re better off not knowing
the truth, than to accept yourself, and your situation, for what it is, good or
bad. Knowing the truth, and not accepting it, is cowardice, pure and simple. It
is living a lie, and that is worse than the alternative.
Self-esteem – value and self-worth – can only be fully,
truthfully realized when the truth is accepted and dealt with.
We’re all born with self-esteem, but somewhere
along the way, it gets systematically beaten out of us – sometimes literally,
sometimes figuratively, sometimes both. Some people learn to deal with this at
an early age, and adopt a façade of being well-adjusted, a fake air of
confidence. Most of us, though, learn to deal with it in other ways – acting out,
or adopting a self-deprecating sense of humor, or any of a dozen other ways of
masking the pain.
Life can seem so difficult sometimes.
Pride (or a lack thereof) convinces us that either we deserve more, or that we’re
getting precisely what we deserve. It’s easy to look at the suffering of others
and think to oneself, “Well, at least I don’t have it THAT badly!” But this is
a false dichotomy – we all suffer individually, in our own little island of
existence, and to varying degrees. Starving children in Africa, tortured
citizens of Hong Kong or the Middle East, or victims of unspeakable crimes
right here in the United States have no real bearing on the individual
suffering we each experience.
Psychologists use the term “self-esteem”
to describe an individual’s sense of value or self-worth. Abraham Maslow, in his
Hierarchy of Needs, makes the case the we all need both esteem (or respect)
from others as well as inner (self-) esteem. People who suffer from low
self-esteem often find themselves in self-destructive situations or
relationships. These situations become a self-fulfilling prophecy, validating
one’s own low sense of self.
Although genetics play a role in it, most
psychologists believe that self-esteem is shaped by one’s own environment. Allowing
oneself to continue to exist in an abusive relationship – in fact, seeking out
these relationships in the first place, whether consciously or unconsciously –
is one of the hallmarks of low self-esteem. It is a hard habit to break, this
vicious cycle of believing you get what you deserve, then being abused (either
physically or emotionally) and believing you deserve to be treated in the
How best to break this cycle, this merry-go-round
of pain and suffering. There are many different strategies proposed by many
different psychologists and therapists, but most all of them have one thing in
common – it is best to rip the band-aid off rather than to continue to exist in
the situation, hoping it will get better.
Sometimes, sadly, this is not always
possible – at least not immediately. Certainly, if an individual is in imminent
physical danger, getting out of the situation is (and should be) the main priority.
But in cases of emotional abuse, the situation is not always cut-and-dried, not
always so black-and-white. It may even be the case that no abuse is intended;
it may be a matter of simple miscommunication. So many people are afraid of the
unknown that they would rather live with the devil they know than take a chance
with the devil they don’t know.
In the absence of the ability or
opportunity to leave, the first step is to try to set definitive boundaries
with the other party. Try to have an adult conversation with them concerning
your wants and needs. Often, it is merely a matter of miscommunication between
the two parties. However, if and when it becomes evident that there is (and can
be) no common ground, it is time to start to think about moving on, to start
preparing for the end of the relationship.
I don’t have the answer. I wish I did.
Or maybe I do, and I am just too afraid of the devil I don’t know.
It’s been nearly four months since I’ve written anything, so
I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring you up to speed on what I’ve
On July 1, I decided – a Mid-Year Day’s Resolution, if you
will – to accomplish two things.
Learn something new every day.
Learn a new skill by the end of the year.
Number 1 is going very well. I’ve subscribed to a couple of
very good email newsletters, and I’ve become immersed in the world of podcasts.
Stuff You Should Know, hosted by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, is a
particular favorite. Alex Williams’ Ephemeral is another podcast I’ve
really enjoyed. The End of the World with Josh Clark, hosted by Josh Clark
(duh!), is highly recommended (by me) as well.
When I can’t listen, or don’t have the time to devote 30-60
minutes to a podcast, short articles on the interwebs have become my go-to
means of enrichment and entertainment. Google News, How Stuff Works, and Mental
Floss all have permanent bookmarks in my phone’s browser.
I’ve given number 2 some thought, and I think I’m leaning towards
learning to play tennis. Since I’ve done so well with golf – someone really
needs to come up with a sarcasm font – I thought I’d give tennis a try. The
worst that could happen is that I suck as badly at tennis as I do at golf, but
I’ll be in better shape at least, right? RIGHT?!?!
Oh, who am I kidding? The worst that can happen is probably
having a heart attack on the court as I’m lunging to return a well-placed cross-court
smash from my opponent.
So, over the course of the remainder of the year, I hope to
be able to share something new with you almost every day, whether it’s a status
update on my tennis lessons or some seemingly insignificant-yet-interesting bit
of trivia, like why golf balls have dimples or why you couldn’t get a taco in
the U.S. until the mid-1950’s.
We’ll probably also get into my irrational fear of
microscopic black holes – thanks, Josh Clark – but that’s another post for
I find it odd, and a bit fascinating, how both my learning style and my general attitude towards school has changed over the last forty-plus years.
When I was in high school in the late seventies and early eighties, I was the model student, behavior-wise. I always paid attention in class and was somewhat of a teacher’s pet (although I never went so far as to remind the teacher when she neglected to assign homework). I am less of an academic brown-noser in college now, but I do pay attention and am usually among the first to participate during interactive exercises in the classroom.
In high school, I took reams upon reams of notes for each class. Rather than having one of those five-subject notebooks, I had a separate binder for each class, and often had to literally run to my locker, change notebooks, and run to my next class so as to not be late. Now, I just open a word document on my laptop and type – much easier, much more efficient.
Most interestingly, though, is how my level of effort has changed over the years.
In high school, I tried to be a sponge, soaking up as much information as I could. I tried to always be among the first to class so I could sit up front, and was usually among the last to leave when class was over.
As I’ve grown older and more experienced, though, and as my classes now seem to overlap with previous classes more and more, I find myself relying more on memory. How many different ways can Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs be covered in a classroom setting, after all?
Perhaps most tellingly, though, as I no longer hold teachers, instructors and professors on a pedestal as I did when I was (much) younger. I can see now, as an adult myself, that they are just people who are playing the role of teacher, just as I’m playing the role of student.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the way I prepare for tests and writing assignments. I have now been doing this long enough that I’m confident – perhaps too confident – in my academic abilities, and so I find myself putting into the class 1) as much effort as it takes to get an A, and 2) as much effort as the instructor puts into it.
Currently, I am taking two college-level courses.
One class is being taught by an instructor who, while he knows the subject material very well, is new to teaching and therefore is still finding his way. He always comes to class prepared for lecture and discussion, but many of the assignments are not well thought out, and as he isn’t quite sure what to expect for the wide range of students in this class, he tends to grade more leniently than might be expected.
I find myself doing the bare minimum in this class, which thus far has been more than enough to carry a high grade. I would consider this class to be less than challenging, which is actually a good thing considering everything else I have going on (full time job, family, etc.).
My other class is being taught by a seasoned veteran of teaching. He also knows his subject extremely well, and his lectures are always entertaining and engaging. He assigns a plethora of written assignments, gives a quiz after each chapter, and tests frequently. This class has been a challenge because of the sheer volume of information that needs to be absorbed.
However, due to the sheer number of students he has over his numerous classes, he rarely has time to review the written assignments, electing to give this task over to his teaching assistants instead. It quickly became evident that these papers were not being graded for content, but rather that they met a strict set of structural criteria (correct font, specific formatting, etc.). This realization has made writing these papers simultaneously easier and more difficult. Intellectually, I know I just have to meet the physical requirements and stay relatively on-topic to get a good grade on these papers, but psychologically I still find myself trying to write the best content possible for an assignment that I’m reasonably certain no one will be reading for content.
So, upon further refection, I guess I haven’t changed so much, when it comes right down to it – I’m still doing what is necessary to get the grades I want. I’m still learning new things, of course, much of which will have no real application outside of the classroom. But my focus remains on doing well within the system – i.e. getting good grades – just as it was forty years ago.
This may come as a shock to you, but I ain’t exactly the most athletic dude in the world.
Sure, I can hit a baseball – well, a softball, anyway – and I can throw a football and I can dribble a basketball. However, I didn’t play in any organized sports leagues after the eighth grade (aside from the co-ed rec league softball team I coached in Denver), partly because I was busy doing other things, and partly because I never felt I was talented enough to make a contribution to any team.
The reason I bring this up is that I just got back from a two mile lunchtime run, and I spent the majority of that run replaying some of the highlights of my athletic career over and over in my mind. Let me share some of my personal highlight reel with you.
First off, there was the time in seventh grade where I was promoted to middle outfielder. The grade school league we played in allowed for four outfielders – leftfielder, rightfielder, centerfielder and middlefielder, the last of which was a sort of rover behind second base, and would act as the cut-off between the outfield and the infield on deeply hit balls.
I usually played center field because, although I couldn’t really hit or field that well, I had a cannon of an arm (at least at that age). I could throw the ball from deep center and hit home plate on the fly, zero bounces.
Our home field in Miramonte, California, didn’t have outfield bleachers, because the outfield was bordered by a creek that ran through the school. Balls that were hit that far were often lost in the overgrowth, or landed in the water.
During one particular practice, I was playing middle field when a ball was smacked deep to left. My buddy Rick went trudging after it – we were a small school on a limited budget, and could scarcely afford to lose too many balls. I assumed he’d go looking for it, give up, and come back to the field of play with his hands raised, as if to say, “I tried, but couldn’t find it anywhere!”
My mind started to wander. Forty-odd years later, I have no idea what I was contemplating. It might have been a test coming up; it might have been what happened in the latest issue of Amazing Spider-man; it might have been how do I get the cutest girl in my class, Cindy, to notice me. Whatever it was, it kept me from noticing everyone around me yelling at me to PAY ATTENTION!
Because Rick hadn’t given up. He’d found the ball, and coming out of the thicket by the creek and seeing me standing there in the outfield, he heaved the ball with all of his might at me.
The next thing I remember, I’m laying on the field with Mr. Buxman, my teacher (and also the principal) pressing a towel to my face and asking if I was all right. I reached up to my face, and all I could feel was wetness. I apparently let fly with a few choice words, from what I was told later. It is literally all a blur to me.
Rick had let fly with a rocket that sailed straight at me and pegged me square in my day-dreaming face. Knocked me out cold, bloodied and broke my nose, the works.
We were a pretty small school. My graduating class of eighth grade, for instance, had seven total kids. There were nine kids in seventh grade, just below us. So, we had to make due with what we had. All of the boys played on all of the teams – flag football, baseball and basketball.
At that age, I had zero upper body strength. I can recall one afternoon on the basketball court – a cement slab outside, surrounded by chain link fencing to keep the wildlife out, with four goals and two courts painted on the cement – we were doing free throw drills.
I stood at the line and prepared to shoot. Twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys can be merciless, so I wasn’t about to try to do a “granny shot,” where you cradle the ball between your legs then heave upwards and fling the ball at the goal. I stood at the line, dribbled two or three times, then jumped and shot.
My hope was that the upwards motion of me jumping would give the ball the added boost it needed to make it to the goal. And I was right, it did. And I even made the shot.
That didn’t stop everyone – kids and Mr. Buxman alike – from laughing their asses off.
My form was, to say the least, interesting. As demonstrated by the much-more-athletic Jerry, I apparently jumped with one one leg while kicking the other leg back behind me, in a sort of bunny hop. Very masculine; very athletic.
Mr. Buxman considered my form for a moment, then made the proclamation, “You look like a bird, hopping around looking for bugs to eat instead of shooting a basketball. From now on, your nickname is ‘Magpie’.”
And it was.
We weren’t necessarily dirt poor when I was growing up and we lived in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but we were definitely “you only need one pair of shoes” poor.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, this wasn’t an issue. I wasn’t terribly fashion-forward as a kid – I was happy in my JC Penney jeans with the reinforced knees and my hiking boots. “Waffle stompers” is what we called them, because of the pattern they made when you walked in soft dirt or mud – a sort of waffle-like pattern.
The other one percent of the time, though, was when I was playing sports. There were many times when I was chasing down a fly ball in center field or trying to do a pick-and-roll on the basketball court in my waffle stompers, and no one said a word. At least, not to me.
That was, until we played a game against our chief rival. Dunlop was the school just down the road from us, and they were bigger than us, but not by much. Their facilities were much like ours – a cement slab for a basketball court, a field that doubled as both a baseball diamond and a football field, depending upon how it had been chalked that day.
Mr. Buxman, who aside from being the 7th & 8th grade teacher and principal of Miramonte Elementary School, was also it’s coach. He decided to try a new play that we’d been working on, called the hook-n-ladder. This type of play is a staple for most teams, but this was forty years ago on a team that was coached by the principal who’s main goal in life was to make it as a painter. Trick plays were a new wrinkle for us.
We played six-man teams – quarterback, two halfbacks, center, two wide receivers. On this particular play, I lined up as the left halfback and my buddy Quentin would be the left receiver. Bobby would snap the ball to his brother Jerry, the quarterback, and Jerry would throw the ball to Quentin, who was doing a ten yard hook – that is, he’d run straight for ten yards and turn around. Meanwhile, I’d run wide, out along the sideline, making sure to stay behind Quentin. As soon as Quentin caught the ball, he’d pitch it out to me running along the sideline, and I’d make a beeline for the end zone.
We ran the play twice that day. The first time we ran it, I scored a touchdown, but it was called back because I’d gotten ahead of Quentin, and forced him into making a forward lateral. The second time, though, it worked perfectly, and I scored the only touchdown of my two year flag-football career.
It was glorious, that second time. Running down the sidelines to cheers of “Go! Go! Go!” and “Run, Magpie!” – it was like a drug to me.
I returned to our bench after scoring my second touchdown (and the only one that actually counted) to high-fives and laughter. I wasn’t quite sure what was so funny, so I asked Mr. Buxman why everyone was laughing.
“The sight of you running down the sideline in your hiking boots (he didn’t know they were called waffle stompers, apparently) with your laces untied and flapping in the wind, with the entire Dunlop team chasing you, was like a scene out of some movie, like you’d stolen that football and they were the cops trying to catch you!” he said, between fits of laughter.
I was simultaneously elated and crushed. On the one hand, I had actually scored a touchdown! On the other hand, though, I looked like an idiot doing it.
My experience with Mr. Buxman, as deflating and crushing as it often was, ended on a high note. He gave me a gift when I graduated eighth grade, and it turned out to be one that changed my life. But that’s a subject for another post.
I graduated and moved on to high school shortly thereafter, and didn’t even make the attempt to play any sports in ninth grade or beyond. I discovered music, and concentrated on that, which I very much enjoyed. I’d learned my lesson – I’m good at a lot of things, but sports ain’t one of them.
But how did I know I wouldn’t develop into an athlete as I grew older? How did I know that my talents and abilities lie elsewhere?
I can make a mean pot of mashed potatoes, but that’s about as sophisticated as I get in the kitchen. If something comes in a box that has directions, I like to think that I’m usually competent enough to manage that task. I can also navigate most recipes, as long as the directions are clear, concise and complete. None of this “cook it until it looks done” nonsense for me.
The catch sometimes is that you need to read the directions first.
A few weeks ago, a local grocery store was clearing out their stock of frozen whole wheat pie crusts. We use those to make homemade potpies, and so we bought quite a few of the two-crust packages.
Last weekend, my wife decided that quiche sounded good, so she thawed one of the pie crust packages and used one of them for her quiche – it was quite good actually. She’s a very talented and resourceful cook.
No one could decide what to use the second crust for – my wife didn’t want to make a second quiche, but also didn’t want to make the chocolate pie our daughter was begging for. It went into the kitchen refrigerator for later use.
Fast forward to Thursday, which is usually my night to make dinner. My wife suggested I make another quiche, but that sounded far too complicated for my basic cooking skills, so I declined. I spent the morning trying to figure out how I could incorporate the unused crust into dinner somehow, then it hit me. I could lure our daughter home from her dorm room for a midweek dinner featuring her favorite garlic bread and – drum roll, please! – the chocolate pie she wanted!
At lunch, I rushed to the grocery store – time was of the essence, since I had a meeting scheduled for immediately after lunch that I couldn’t afford to miss. I went directly to the baking aisle, looking for chocolate pie filling. This is apparently not a thing. I worked my way down the aisle to the pudding, casting about for alternative solutions, and that is where I found it – a box of no-bake chocolate cheesecake. That would work perfectly!
I rushed home and pulled out a glass bowl and the hand mixer. I put the powder and milk into the bowl and mixed it per the directions. When it looked ready, I retrieved the pie crust from the refrigerator and prepared to pour the chocolate mixture into the pie crust.
The crust looked a bit funny, so I put everything down and grabbed the plastic cover that had been on the pie crust and looked at the printing on the back of the label. There were clear directions printed there concerning using the crust for a no-bake pie, and that’s when I discovered that the pie crust neededtobecookedfirst!
Trying not to panic, I set the oven to 400 degrees and put the crust in. I set the timer for 20 minutes – the directions said to cook the crust for 15 minutes at 400 – then grabbed the bowl of chocolate and went into the den. The cheesecake filling was beginning to set already, so I spent the next 20 minutes occasionally stirring the mixture while watching the local midday news as the crust cooked.
The oven timer started buzzing twenty minutes later, so I returned to the kitchen, took the crust out of the oven and quickly moved it to the refrigerator to cool. I was starting to really panic at this point, so I took the it back out of the fridge seven minutes later and slopped the nearly-set cheesecake mix into the still-warm crust, trying to smooth it out as best I could…
Having finished and put the whole thing back in the fridge to properly set, I returned to work – in time for my meeting. Thankfully, I live less than two miles from the office, so made it back for my meeting with time to spare.
When I got home after work, I pulled the chocolate cheesecake pie out of the fridge. The top looked like a lake during a particularly rough summer storm, so I decorated it with whipped cream and graham cracker crumbles and served it with dinner – all three kids seemed to enjoy it, my daughter included!
I may not be much of a cook OR a baker, but when it comes to whipping things up straight out of a box or a can, I’ve got it covered. Usually.