Thursday, November 28, 2013

More Than Turkey

On this beautiful and unseasonably warm day I am caught up into cliché thoughts of thanks like the rest of the good nation. I cannot list or enumerate everything I am thankful for, but I want to make an attempt at a truncated list; mostly for myself and possibly my future progeny (assuming I can escape this cold grip of singledom).

I am of course thankful for Squanto. If it was not for his savvy eel hunting ways, Thanksgiving may have never been. With that same token I am thankful for those plucky Puritans that arrived in the good ole land of the free and home of the brave. I am grateful for humor in its many forms. In 1987 President Reagan was the first President to pardon a turkey, exculpating it from its sundry turkey crimes and setting it free to a farm. This became a tradition; and now every year the commander and chief lets a turkey off scot-free in the name of Thanksgiving.

I am also thankful for Jelly Beans, they have so many flavors and they are a major staple of my Dad’s diet. I am thankful for basketball, for it brings me a sort of joy I cannot find elsewhere. I am thankful for great friends. A life without friends is like a life without bread, pretty vapid and depressing. I am thankful for great literature. Books are a way of escaping into a parallel universe that is new yet cries of familiar nostalgia. I am grateful for the juiciness of sarcasm; for without it I do not think I could survive this dry bane of existence. I am thankful for social media, for it brings the nations of the world together and approximates those who are estranged from us. I am thankful for pizza because it is delicious and never gets old. I am thankful for good and splendid films. They have a gorgeous way of whisking us away into a world we are not always clever enough to contrive ourselves, at least not with an accompanying soundtrack. I am thankful for music, without it I would surely go mad and punch more doors.

The list could go on and on. The bottom line is I have been blessed. No matter how downtrodden or chopfallen I am, I know my struggle is temporary and that many have it worse. I have a family that makes every evil and misfortune seem to evanesce effortlessly. I am thankful for grandparents. They always spoil you and say outdated phrases that dare you not to chuckle. I am thankful for babies because let’s face it, they are the cutest things in the world and the closest things to heaven.

I am thankful for freedom. I have never really felt oppression or been in the throes of tyranny, but for that I am thankful. Sometimes it is a blessing to not have the ability to empathize with people.  I am thankful for my religion; it may not be yours, but at the end of the day it is the most important thing to me. And I am thankful for the peace and endless hope that it brings me. I am thankful for all things beautiful. What an amazing and dichotomous planet we have. Sometimes it is necessary to pause from the tedium of life and notice the simple yet majestic aesthetics of this earth.

I am thankful for women. As much as they frustrate and confuse me to no end, they are the better species; for it is not good that the man be alone. We need that pesky helpmeet. And I cannot wait to meet mine.

I am not especially thankful for beets or yams, but I am thankful for any excuse to get loved ones together. If nothing else, what an opportunity to stop and think about the things that this life has given us; for it has truly blessed us richly. I fear not redundancy: I am thankful for my family, and I consider close friends to be family. And collectively these people are my sine quo non. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

5 Ways to be More Productive and More Awesome

Amidst the hubbub of everyday life I often find myself wondering how I could use my time more wisely. It seems I would do much better if my days had 40 hours and everyone else’s only had 24. I could sleep as much as I wanted, then be uber productive and still have time to watch Netflix incessantly and look up sundry topics on Wikipedia for hours. Alas, my days will likely remain on the 24-hour clock system until scientists, astronomers, navigators and horologists discover a glitch in the universe.

There exist a million ways to save time and have a more efficacious life. This in no way is an exhaustive list of things to do. Truth be told, different things work for different people, and some things are just plain obvious. For example: Don’t watch entire series of shows in less than a week. Do not sleep over 12 hours at a time. Do not disregard all of your responsibilities with the wonderful hope that they will somehow cosmically disappear. And do not habitually make grandiose goals without devising some means to achieve them.

Some advice is implicit, and some is simply replete with tired platitudes, and maybe this will be no different, but here are a few things that have helped me be more efficient and productive in my most quotidian tasks and endeavors.

1.    Talk On The Phone in The Car

Okay, at first this sounds like reckless advice. Let me continue. Most of us are prone to texting or using our phones while we drive anyway, so let us use the lesser of two iniquities. Also, with speaker phone, head phones and blue tooth telephoning is a much safer option than texting. I always find that there are people I want to converse with on the phone, but my claim is always that I am too busy. So, I send them a courtesy text or more likely, I forget about them. They fall victim to technology. Because it is so easy to send a text, calls are neglected. Hearing the voice of a loved one becomes something unimportant. My solution is to take the time you have in your vehicle and utilize it. Do not just blast music in an attempt to drown out the noise of your tedious life. Call someone you care about, someone you have been meaning to get back in touch with. When we are at home, we can and will find a million reasons to not do it. In the car however, no one will knock on your door (except the occasional derelict at a red light), and no one will be eavesdropping in the next room. Most of us dread driving more than 15 minutes somewhere, especially by ourselves. Well, take the opportunity to quit raging about people’s poor driving etiquette and call an old chum you have lost touch with. Call a cousin and congratulate them on their nuptials. Call an old coach or teacher and say thanks. Granted you can call people anywhere and anytime you want. But if your excuse is that you are too busy, or you constantly complain about your commute somewhere and the accompanying traffic, pick up your phone and quit grumbling.

2.    Make To-Do Lists

There are so many things I want to do in a typical day, and sometimes all I end up doing is eating at Wendy’s, reading a chapter of a book and hanging out for 8 hours. When I make to-do lists however, my production seems to increase at an alarming rate. I believe that to-do lists should contain two important elements. First you should not include things that you do every day without fail. Putting ‘Take a shower’ on your list will only be a waste of ink or graphite and will not make you feel more accomplished once it is crossed off. My second rule of thumb is to not be discouraged if you do not finish every task. Some tasks will be more important than others, and there are myriad variables that will undoubtedly arise throughout our day limiting our ability to accomplish everything all the time. My anecdote for this problem is to carry over the unchecked boxes of a particular day to the next day. My goal is simply that I get things done. It is nice to have every miniature box aggressively scribbled in, but it is not paramount.

3.    Take Time to Read

I find that when I am frequently reading I am frequently inspired. People claim they do not have time to read between their studies, their work and their incalculably important social lives. But I beg to differ. You do not have to read 2 hours a day. Read when you are making bowel movements. Read while you are waiting for your friend to take ‘a quick shower’ that we all know will last at least 20 minutes. Read for a few minutes when you wake up to clear your foggy brain of its dusty cobwebs. Read at night to help you slip into slumber. There is time for literature and though many view it as a waste of time, it will undoubtedly make you smarter, more cultured, more understanding, more inspired, and more motivated. Just reading quotes on Pinterest or reading articles online does not suffice. Open a book. They fit compactly in most purses and every backpack I have ever seen. If nothing else, make a goal to read 30 minutes a day from a book of your choice. See if your speech is not more eloquent, if your motivation is not higher and if your production of ideas is not increased.

4.    Write in a Journal

I can hear the excuses already. You hate writing, it hurts your hand and you have nothing interesting to write concerning your boring lives. Balderdash. We all have interesting lives, they just often seem unimportant because they are ours and we have had them our whole lives. Your life is beautiful, unique and prodigious in more ways than you understand. That is why you should write about it. If nothing else writing about your day will help you realize the good. As the pen hits the paper you will see salient points of positivity. You will see that life is not so bad, or so hard. For me it is a cathartic process. I sit down at the end of the day and let the pen describe in sloppy prose what transpired in my life since the last time I wrote. In doing this I subconsciously become accountable to my journal in my daily actions. I do not want to do something untoward or embarrassing, because regardless of the level of stupidity it will be documented. Just like reading, writing inspires and motivates. It may be viewed as another activity that is a waste of time, but I find that when I am writing I am inspired and imbued with energy. And being encouraged and filled with inspiration is never a waste of time.

5.    Don’t Waste Time With The Wrong People

What we fail to realize sometimes is that if we are not progressing in life we are regressing. Bad habits insidiously become ways of life and before we realize it we are often going in reverse.  How do we avoid this course of regression? Eliminate things that are retarding our progression. It has been said that we kind of become the sum total of the 5 people we spend the most time with. So what if one of those people is a vessel for constant negativity? What if one of those five makes you feel terribly about yourself? Eventually it will wear on you, and likely stop you from moving forward. Yet we seem to stick around. We humans are obstinate and obtuse creatures. We hang around people that are not edifying us, and we remain in unhealthy relationships hoping they will improve. Then we bellyache because our lives are stagnant. If we want to progress, we must release ourselves from anything or anyone that is holding us back from our potential. For surely the potential of each one of us is high.  Some people we hob nob with remind us of that fact, others obscure that notion making us feel woefully mediocre and undeserving of good things. So let us have the courage to estrange ourselves from the wrong people, in search of the right people. 

"People are strange. They are constantly angered by trivial things, but on a major matter like totally wasting their lives, they hardly seem to notice."

~Charles Bukowski

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Dangers of Stereotyping

I often choose to write on subjects that have been loitering in my brain for an extended period of time. They are not always intrinsically important, but if they continue to linger in my psyche I like to let them out to stretch; get them typed out. If nothing else it is a cathartic release, and perhaps my porous thoughts will make sense to someone. And if they somehow influence a down trodden individual or ameliorate the day of a victim of Murphy’s Law, then a victor has immerged.

This topic is sticky. It is something we all do or have done at varying levels. I am therefor not here to castigate or judge those who practice it, for I too am culpable of participation. But rather, I want to speak about the dangers of it, to perhaps pry open our eyes that too often remain somnolent and closed. I want to change attitudes and paradigms that have become jaded and caustic. As always, my hopes are ambitious if not grandiose.

There are sundry ways to define stereotyping. Some call it generalizing, some refer to it in its more specific forms i.e. racism, chauvinism, ageism, etc. and some do not even realize their ubiquitous use of it. No matter what you call it or how you view it, stereotyping people is a thought or belief about a person or group of persons that does not necessarily reflect the reality. It has been existent ever since there were groups of people on this earth. Although I doubt Adam ever mocked Eve’s driving skills or said, “It’s just typical of a girl to be beguiled by a serpent, classic Eve.”

So, why is it so dangerous to stereotype people? Before we dive into that thought, let’s ask ourselves some fundamental questions: Who do we love the most? Who do we make fun of the least, and stand up for the most? The answer is likely the people we know the very best; our family, friends that have been in our lives for years, and people that somehow make us feel special and relevant. These people are not anomalous beings that are without iniquity or weakness. They are assuredly stereotyped somewhere by some group of people. But why do we look past these putative titles or preconceived notions? Because we care about them, we love them. We do not care about their physical appearance. We do not care where they are from. We do not make libelous claims about their lives. We understand and even accept their downfalls and idiosyncratic annoyances.

So why do we do this with people we do not know? We make a debauchery of things they hold sacred, we assume the worst and we often judge a piece of literature by its flowery exterior rather than starting the first chapter. I am convinced we do this simply because we do not know the truth, and are unwilling to procure veracity. I am equally convinced that if we make a resurged effort to get to know people, our preconceived notions will dissipate. That does not mean cultural nuances will cease to exist. It just means they will not matter.

We can argue statistics, claiming that a certain group of people are clearly and inexcusably accusable of certain things. But do we know the whole story? Are we in possession of all salient facts? And if so, does that incriminate an entire nation?
As we grow older (sage 26-year old tone) we will find that stereotypes are hokum. They mean nothing, and we should not pay attention to them. What we should pay attention to are people, the individual. Getting to know people on a personal level is the best way to eradicate the poison of stereotypes.

In closing, let us not forget the litany of abuse and misfortune that has befallen the people of this planet due to stereotypes. Perhaps our prejudice and our generalization of people will not spark a heinous genocide, but what good will it bring? How will we benefit from stereotyping individuals? Maybe we think we are accepting of all people, and we radiate love 24/7. Maybe that is true, but odds are when we are at a party or social gathering we target certain pockets of people and assume things about them. Usually these assumptions prevent us from meeting them, or prevent us from taking someone seriously.

So next time you see a guy in a particularly ostentatious cravat, look past it. Next time you see a girl in clothes that are bound to rupture blood vessels due to their tightness, look past. It is rude to stare and unfair to assume you now have a clear and untainted understanding of the kind of person they are. Next time you see a foreigner, don’t assume you understand their plight, let alone their history. As difficult as it is, let’s try to reject the outer appearance and search indefatigably for the sweet jelly in the middle. Let’s forget what we have heard or thought our whole lives and give people the benefit of the dubious thought. I think in doing so we will be surprised at the increase of our own felicity and the quality of relationships formed.

"Attempting to get at truth means rejecting stereotypes and cliches." - Harold Evans