Friday, August 23, 2013

My Phone is Dead

Some years ago before the popularization of text messaging and internet on cell phones, Jerry Seinfield said something prophetic. In discussing our obsession with answering our mobile phones and listening to our voice mails, Jerry mused, “Boy have we gone crazy with the phones.” Well, some 15 to 20 years after that, we have surpassed crazy and slid head first into the dusty plate of insanity and slavery. We have truly become cell-phone maniacs and literal slaves to said devices. The purpose of this post is not devised to demonize telecommunication or eradicate our addictions to technology. The purpose is to perhaps open our eyes a little bit. Is our happiness based on a little machine we hold in our pockets and hand bags; a device that has not been in existence for the vast majority of the planet’s history? I hope not. But let’s see.

I know many people that the instant their cell phone dies, so does their mood. Some are the type of people that make an aggravated announcement, “Frick guys, my phone is dead.” Others sulk in solitude until a friend so kindly asks what is wrong. Of course the congenial response is, “Nothing, just…my phone is dead.” Some enlightened individuals always carry their phone chargers so that such a tragic thing as a dead phone will not occur. But why are we so soured when we have to go a few hours without textual interaction? The reason is we have become so accustomed to instant gratification. If we want to talk to someone, we need not prepare a beautiful missive, we simply text them. If we want to take a photograph we do not whip out a bulky camera from a back pack, we simply press a button on our phones. If we want to know when movie times are we do not procure a local newspaper, we look it up on our phones. If we want to do something fun, we do it, but first we imagine the best possible scenario and timing for a photo, so all can know the quantity of our fun, and the aesthetic appeal of our hair that day.

This is all fine. This is the way the world has progressed (or regressed) and it only makes sense to conform and take advantage of such advances. But under what circumstances are we justified in getting all fussy just because our battery ran out? Are we incapable of using other resources? Are we not already around others with phones in case of emergency, i.e. need to take a selfie with the sunset in the background, need to send out some feeler texts so you are not left without plans later in the night, or the necessity to Shazam a song you here at a local pub. These things are important.

Why not look at a dead phone as an opportunity? It is not magically going to turn back on. Why waste energy on complaining or fixating on getting back to a location conducive to cellular charging? It is an opportunity to see things around you that you usually miss. It is a chance to remember things that the constant attention of a screen distracts from. It is the fortuity we have to engage in human contact.

Sometimes we are alone in our homes where we still crave a debilitating connection with the rest of the world. What if we miss a clever FB status, or fail to like a picture of the opposite sex that we have been pining for? My advice is that at times we must disconnect. We must walk through the world with more in mind than our phones. We must read a book without simultaneously having a text conversation. We must meditate without e-mail notifications. William Safire, a columnist for The Times wrote on how we could accomplish this peace without cellphonic interruption. He said:

“We turn off the surround-sound, unplug the coaxial cable, stuff the iPod under the seat cushion, and shut down the laptop. We unthumb the personal digital assistant, wipe the screen of the home theater, dispense with cellphonic communication, cut off conversational interruption, and then—alone at last—crack open a bound copy of printed pages and read. By thus employing the technique of uni-tasking, we harness the power of intra-cranial concentration and absorb personally selected data at warp speed.”
What a cathartic experience. And it does not have to be to read a book. It can be to contemplate serious life decisions, to take an uninterrupted nap, or to cook a fabulous meal without wondering if you already put in a tablespoon of paprika. I must say I am often just as culpable as the next person in terms of cell-phone addiction syndrome. I wrote this entire post while texting, listening to iTunes and checking FB periodically. But we all have space to improve. If nothing else, maybe we can refrain from such unpleasant irritability if by chance that battery percentage of our phone reaches that sinister and mocking 1%. For we know we will not see the zero. And we know that zero equates to a moribund phone and potentially a horrible attitude. We know this. So let us be preemptive and decide to be cheerful and felicitous if our phone for some dreadful reason is no longer in function.

Friday, August 16, 2013

How to Change People

The other day I heard a few words that have reverberated in my brain ever since. An older man said with eloquent sagacity, “If you want to change someone, change yourself.” He said it in a very matter of fact tone, and quickly moved on to other salient topics. But I kind of let this phrase linger in my conscious thoughts, to see if anything grandiose would materialize, for I knew that it potentially carried great weight. This post will be the nugget of wisdom that was created from the refinery process within my mind. Hopefully it is shiny and of some minor monetary value.

In life it is incredibly easy to be constantly annoyed by people. We are surrounded by terrible drivers. And we are of course all perfectly courteous road weavers ourselves. We have to deal with cranky people receiving minimum wage on a daily basis. And we would all clearly be sparkly personalities of overflowing joy if we worked for a tedious job we loathed. And then we have to deal with those closest to us. People tend to have poor personal hygiene, atrocious manners and the most perturbing idiosyncrasies. Some people talk way too much without any sort of tact. Some people text you incessantly until you return their message. Is there some sort of cosmic panacea for people that drive us crazy? Yes, but it is unlikely as easy as you would anticipate.

I think the best way to change someone and their god-awful habits and blood-curling eccentricities is to first look at ourselves. We should first ask ourselves why we are so easily off put by a specific course of action, or why we are so quick to lash out at someone for their putative wrong doings. The answer often lies in our own irritability. For one reason or another we are enveloped in stress and chaos, and the certain actions of a few seem to be the cement around our feet, causing us to drown. But it is after all a choice to become upset, to become annoyed. Look at the happiest people around; are they somehow avoiding all annoying people? Are they somehow exempt from confrontation and tragedy? No. they simply choose to not be irritated by the little things. They choose to view negativity as an insidious poison.

The truth is we have little power to change someone of their most primitive ways. We cannot alter peoples DNA or make decisions for them. We can however be good examples. We can mirror the type of people we wish to surround ourselves with. How unreasonable is it to want to hang around people slow to anger, if we are quick to anger? How incongruous to the laws of karma is it to expect endless politeness when we are often rude and caustic with people?

Sometimes people truly do need to change. Maybe they are in the doldrums of depression. Maybe they are entangled in the thick briars of addiction. How can we change these people? While an intervention or forced therapy is sometimes the answer, it is usually not. Usually we need to go back and look at ourselves. Do we love this person as much as we should? Are we judging them as little as possible? Are we availing ourselves to them if they need our help? If not, why are we wasting so much energy on simply hoping they change, or bemoaning the fact that they are not?

In summation, I think we have to follow the wise words of Michael Jackson, and start with the man in the mirror. Far too often we are of the opinion that our varied weaknesses and shortcomings are far less sinful or relevant than that of those around us. That is not the case. And we do not know the plight others have taken. So let us change others by changing ourselves.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

How to be a Good Finisher

I first must apologize. About 4 days ago I promised to blog within 24 hours. As usual I became distracted with reading about the intricacies of the Nazi regime on Wikipedia and overindulging in sleep at inappropriate hours. Procrastination is exhausting. With that being said, this post is very overdue. And I sincerely hope that mid-post I will not lose interest and start reading Schindler’s List, or start streaming movies online. But you never know.

How to be a Good Finisher

Perhaps the title of this post is a bit ambitious considering I am often overcome by procrastination, discouragement and distraction. One could argue that I am a poor finisher at times. But writing on a topic does not instantly make you an expert or a paragon of that specific principle or philosophy. Thus is the case here. But what I profess to be good practice I fervently try to apply in my life. So here we go.

I have noticed in my life that it is often very difficult to finish. It is tough to complete a long term paper. It is difficult to remain in a relationship. It is hard to have the legs to sink a deep jumper in the fourth quarter. It is not easy to continue to accomplish things when you have accomplished so much. It is difficult to search for innovation when so much has been innovated at your hands. The point is life is difficult, but finishing is an even greater challenge. It is easy to go hard for 90% of the journey, and then let your weariness prevail. That is why we have books half finished, projects barely started and long relationships terminated. It is tough to finish. Like most things in life this is mostly mental. In order to be a good finisher we must change our mindset. And a great way to learn any skill is to learn from the greats, those who dominated their craft. And the art of finishing is certainly a craft one must develop.

For those of you not familiar with Neal A. Maxwell, allow me to explain. He was among other things a prolific writer for the LDS church for many years. He was known for his verbosity and his uncanny ability to touch people with his beautiful orations and written word. One specifically salient aspect of his character to me was his ability to finish. In 1996 he was diagnosed with Leukemia. He remained alive for another eight years. Gordon B. Hinckley said “Maxwell accomplished more in these last eight years than most men do in a lifetime.” That pithy comment speaks volumes to me about the type of man Neal A. Maxwell was. He knew his disease was terminal. He knew no one would judge him for taking it easy. He knew there would be no dire consequences for retiring from his faculties. But alas, he trudged on. He wanted to accomplish more. He wanted to serve and fight until the last day. That is how you finish.

Michael Jordan is an obvious beacon of athleticism. And his work ethic was unparalleled in his sport. But again, his ability to close or finish is what set him apart. If the game was on the line, you knew and he knew that he was going to take the last shot. And most of the time it was going in. If he was sick, you knew he was going to play. And if it was the NBA finals, you knew he was going to win, whether you wanted to admit it or not. One of my favorite quotes from Jordan about himself states: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Thus we see that finishing is not always about an elusive level of perfection, but the ability to continue forward in the face of failure. You cannot finish if you are haunted by your past. You cannot find love unless the demons of erstwhile romances are exorcized.

Finishers that exceed the rest in my mind are the Holocaust survivors. Not only were they starved, dehumanized, beaten and ridiculed in the most horrific manner, they had to witness countless loved ones perish right before their eyes. The psychological toll on them was unbelievable. Many simply quit along the way. Suicide seemed to be the only escape from hell. And some could not bear the culpability of being the only family member alive. But those who endured the war, and the subsequent years of trauma and anguish are the true finishers. One survivor Joseph Sher recounted the last words of a friend before being taken to his death: “Don’t forget, tell the world. You cannot keep it inside.” For this purpose many Jews decided they must endure, they must survive, so their story could remain. They had to finish. They had to.

So often our conundrum is that we are not in a life or death situation. We do not HAVE to finish or Hemmingway novel. We do not have to matriculate from school to get a good job. We do not have to help somebody today, we can help them tomorrow. We do not have to settle down and commit this time around. There is no sense of urgency. But we must have a sense of urgency. If not, I fear we will look back on our lives with sorrow and regret. We will look back at the things we have neglected or left undone. And we will don an eternal frown. It is not easy, but we must learn and strive to be better finishers. And I think we start with the little things. When we start a book, we should finish it. When we accept a task from a colleague, we should finish it post haste. When we set a goal, we should work toward it, and not dismiss it as a silly pipedream. For life cannot be successfully lived ex tempore.We should sojourn on through the difficult times to reach the valley of splendor. And if this is our resolve, we will soon find that we are finishing with the big things. We are graduating college. We are marrying the person of our dreams. We are starting our own business. We are enduring to the end. We are finishing.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

South Dakota & Spontaneity Part 2

For context please read the first segment of this story, found here.

As we arrived in the sleepy town of Green River, Wyoming to gas up we decided to get out of the car, drink some soda and attempt to do kick flips in the parking lot. Getting out of the car and acting like small children at every stop makes for a much more enjoyable road trip. And as we all know, the longer you remain awake the funnier things become. At this point it was about 3:30 in the morning and we still had to drive from one end to the other of the Equality State.

A few hours later I was still awake and the sun was starting to rise. Music continued to play while half the car was in a deep coma and the other half flirted back and forth with jocular conversation. We were now in the vast and open state of Wyoming. Our view was a cornucopia of barren fields, what we assumed were bison in the distance, and the occasional small town. At about 10:00 a.m. I was still awake and the hilarity of every sentence I heard was beginning to reach an all-time high. We decided to stop in a couple hours for a hardy meal, but a few miles later I saw something in the distance I wanted to explore and demanded that we stop the car. It was a decrepit house about one-hundred yards off the highway near the town of Manville. There was a large windmill on the property and no other sign of life for miles. Me and one of my other travel mates ran out there and immediately started to poke around the derelict home of yesteryear. We found nothing particularly inspiring, but it was curious that the house still remained after decades of abandonment. Per usual, we took advantage of the moment and took copious amounts of pictures, perhaps to the bemusement of our less peppy and awake passengers who remained in the car chagrined and fussy.

We trekked on until we arrived in the bustling town of Lusk, Wyoming, population 1,567. We pulled into the only place we could see that would possibly serve food, the Triangle 4 CafĂ© & Steak House. We entered, and quickly realized that we were not of the same cultural milieu of these people. We both had tight pants and hats, but theirs were Wranglers and cowboys hats, and ours were skinny jeans and snap-backs. Our food was actually delicious despite the abysmal service and unsolicited stares we received from confused ranchers. Wyoming knows how to make omelets. Before getting back in the car we walked around a minute to more fully take in Lusk. Every city and town has its own story, and just taking an extra 5 minutes to poke around and talk to locals can really help you feel the history of that town without ever having reading a dusty book on the town’s history.
We then got back into our beloved Hyundai and continued eastward, next stop South Dakota.