Making Versus Taking

Why cook for people who don’t care if you cook?

*****

With only rare exception, I do not celebrate holidays of any kind–no birthdays or weddings, not Christmas, or Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day–nothing. If that sounds crazy to you, read this.

Sometimes, though, I do make an exception. I usually regret it but sometimes it is convenient (for example, to spend time with many family members at once) or I have a particular obligation (for example, a new boss publicly invites me to his or her house-warming party, having never read my blog or broached the subject with me otherwise), or sometimes I just make an exception for my own reasons.

Regardless of how I end up at some parties, many parties are bring-a-plate-to-pass-around events and, of course, being vegan, I am sensitive about what I bring. Generally, I won’t bring anything too weird for non-vegans.

I go a step further, though, by deciding to never “make” a plate for events, holidays, or parties. I always buy and take something to the festivity instead, especially things like work food days.

For me, after factoring the cost of goods, effort, and time to make food for 4-20 people (often mostly strangers) who “graze and glaze” over every dish, tossing a token compliment here and there, it is not worth the total cost paid from my life.

I would rather hand $40 to a deli, restaurant, or supermarket for the convenience of taking something I know tastes fine than spend $15 on ingredients plus 2-4 hours of time making. 2 hours alone is worth $40 to have to myself or spend doing something I would rather be doing–even if it is just watching a movie (which would cost another $40).

Some people love to cook and love to have their food reviewed. This obviously does not apply to everyone. I know I am being a bit curmudgeonly here and I am fine with it.

For me, it is better to take something tasty to a party than make something that hopefully turns out well, and then worry about getting my Tupperware back.

If you invite me to your festivities, I will probably say “No thanks”. But if I do go, I would rather take my cake and eat some of it, too.

 

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Why Did You Go Vegan?

It is curious what people are curious about.

*****

Being vegan, although becoming more and more mainstream, is still seen as weird or odd by some people.

Vegans are used to fielding inquiries and navigating polite (but usually insincere) conversations about their life choices. It is something to talk about at a party. We get it.

One question that has a tendency to rub me the wrong way, though, is the one that is asked the most: “Why did you go vegan in the first place?”

It is a legitimate question if you are close friends with a vegan and genuinely interested. I would like you to consider, however, that for most everyone else, I think it might be impolite prying.

Choosing a vegan lifestyle is almost always a moral, ethical, spiritual, or personal health choice. Morality, ethics, spirituality, and personal health are typically not topics we broach with strangers or acquaintances.

You probably do not ask people, “Why did you become Christian in the first place?” Or, “Why do you love your children?” Or, “So, why are you a Jew?” Or, “Why are you fat?”

Like nearly all vegans I know, I am happy to talk about being vegan with people who are genuinely interested or considering a lifestyle change for themselves. For people just trying to keep a conversation going or filling dead space with idle chatter… maybe just ask what kind of music I like or where I am from.

Remember, your vegan friends are still people. Being vegan is a fundamentally life-changing moral and ethical choice, not a fashion statement. If you would not want someone prying into your personal choices, consider not prying into theirs. After all, I do not know many vegans who are bold enough to start a conversation with, “So, why did you choose to murder and then eat the dead flesh of animals and wear their skin as clothes?”

 

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Face Full of Email

Your emails might be faceless but you are not.

*****

You probably do this, too, but I have it pretty bad. When I am typing an email (or a blog post or story–pretty much anything), I have a tendency to quietly act out the conversation. If I am saying something I think is funny, I smile. If I am angry, I scowl. I have, more than a few times, been caught mouthing the words as I type them.

It is as if I am having the actual conversation but with the benefit of editing before I speak (well, usually–sometimes my fingers move faster than my brain and I hit send before I realize I will regret it).

I used to be self-conscious about it. Somebody would walk up and see me typing and silently speaking the words, and they would say, “Are you whispering to me or just talking to yourself, and what are you so angry about?”

I would create a sheepish excuse, “No. I was just… chewing… gum. I swallowed it, though, just now. What’s up?”

If you are afflicted with “Face full of email” syndrome, don’t sweat it. There is nothing wrong with thinking, or silently speaking, through a problem and showing your emotions.

Go ahead and wear your heart on your sleeve. It’s more fun for everyone else.

 

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Why Conspiracy Theories Fail

Today’s Lesson: If there are actual conspiracies out there, they are lame at best. Instead of believing in them, accept responsibility for learning how to think sharply and act with specific intent.

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Many of my friends love, love, love to believe there are incredibly evil and corrupt powers in the world, secretly invading our culture for nefarious purposes.

In my social circle, there are people who believe extraterrestrials are among us but have been hidden by the government. There are people who believe GMO food is essentially grown, harvested, and marketed by the devil. There are those who believe in ghosts, hidden backwards messages in live speeches, chemtrails, demonic possession, global warming is a myth, and any number of other popular but utterly unjustifiable, unproven, and unbelievable beliefs.

There might be real conspiracies somewhere, but it is highly unlikely any of the ones perpetuated in the media or by the public have any validity. I see three problems with believing in conspiracies:

1. Conspiracies give too much credit to the conspirators. 

It is fanciful thinking to believe a government could pull off a conspiracy like Roswell. (If you are unfamiliar, an extraterrestrial ship allegedly crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in the 1950’s and has been kept from the public ever since.)

The U.S. government, under constant, relentless scrutiny from the public and media, is unable to even hide a President getting a BJ. The nation’s leaders can not agree on a single principle, direction, or moral value. How is it possible these bumbling, bungling politicians are pulling off an incredibly ornate and long-lasting conspiracy to hide something from the public? Is it more believable the government, through decades of changing leadership, advisers, and staff have kept an impenetrable wall of secrecy for over 60 years–not one single person breaking their silence, not one reporter finding a single irrefutable clue tying the plot together… or is it more likely aliens never visited?

We do not have to be logicians to figure this one out. We simply have to sit and think beyond our Twitter feeds for a minute. The harsh truth is most people, even those with a lot of unchecked power, are not smart enough to mastermind the kinds of plots we see in movies.

2. Conspiracies rely on someone being illogically evil.

Wouldn’t it be convenient if Monsanto was an evil, secret corporation trying to poison our food and destroy our planet for nothing more than bigger profit margins (because, at this point, they still really need the money)?

One of the many problems with the “GMO is evil” bandwagon is the people who work at Monsanto also have to eat the same food, grown on the same Earth, as everyone else. Edgar Monsanto Queeny (the current president of Monsanto and the founder’s son), I very much doubt, wants his children, or his family, or his family’s legacy, to be tied to the willful destruction of the world (why start a family if your goal is for them to have no future?). I also find it tough to believe a company that employs literally thousands of people has somehow convinced most, if not all, of them to contribute to the company’s nefariously evil plan to destroy the world’s food supply.

You have had jobs. You have probably worked for good people, and not-so-good people but not one of your bosses, I am willing to bet, is a Joker “watch the world burn” level of evil. They are just people with families doing their best, and maybe they have some anger issues. I bet you do not know a single person carrying out a world-wide master plot of evil. Further, neither does anyone you know or have ever met.

There are definitely bad organizations in the world, run by bad people, but they are not elaborate conspiracies. They are blatant about their intentions–Al Qaeda, Hitler, North Korea, Fox News… the distinction of these groups is, despite worldwide criticism and rejection, they believe they are the good guys.

In other words, there is no inherent benefit for them to create a conspiracy.

If you are trying to take over the world, you need to recruit and have a powerful message to market to enroll others. A conspiracy, by definition, denies bringing attention to the conspirator’s plan. This is obviously illogical. How can the conspirator take credit for their work if they succeed?

Ego is probably the first barrier to conspiracy, which is how and why hackers are often caught. They leave a signature, a tell-tale sign of their work because they want to show it off. Conspiracy theories fall apart when there is no tell-tale sign of who is conspiring and what they have to gain. This is easy to spot because the language of conspiracies requires a vague “them”, “they”, “the government”, “Monsanto”, “The Media”, “Fox News”, etc. because there is no one to actually pinpoint (yes, it was on purpose). The reason there is no one to pinpoint is because there is likely no one master-minding a conspiracy.

3. The conspiracy itself is unsustainable at the scale proposed.

This should be evident in the other two points but conspiracies are always massive and unbelievable because the obvious place to hide something so remarkable is in a morass of confusion.

Thousands of employees work for Monsanto. I challenge any person to find the employee that goes to work each day hoping to cause cancer, put farmers out of work, or kill his or her own family with secret, genetically-modified-by-the-devil, food. For what purpose, exactly, would a capitalist company want to end life as we know it or destroy natural food? It is hard to profit after you kill all your customers. Is it more likely Monsanto’s (or Cargill’s or whoever’s) intent is to leverage science to create a healthier, more sustainable planet or they are part of a secret cult trying to kill everyone including themselves?

By the same token, thousands of people over generations would be required to hide a secret alien ship buried in New Mexico. To what end?

By the way, if aliens possessed technology to warp space-time or exceed the speed of light to reach Earth, then there is absolutely no technology on Earth that could hide them and no reason for the aliens to care about human motives or political agendas. If they are advanced enough to get here, then once they arrived, we would be about as interesting and intelligent to them as amoeba are to us.

 

I get it, though. We all want to be healthy and wish to know what is true, reliable, and dependable in our lives. We want to stand on something and stand for something. We want to believe bad things happen for a reason–that evil, if evil exists, is not random and meaningless (because that makes the events of our lives random and meaningless). Sadly, those are the worst reasons to try to validate conspiracies. Conspiracies prey on your highest values. That is the shame of the conspiracies and of the so-called “theorists” who perpetuate such myths and poor thinking.

Before you believe without question the next study, story, or announcement from an organization, person, or group with a reputable sounding name, pause. Spend a moment to think about what they are purporting to be true. Play out the logical conclusions in your mind. Ask, “What is the motive here? Is this possibly biased? Is there an agenda? Where is the information coming from and what makes me think I can trust it? Is it because the source has a legitimate sounding name or because it was a massive double-blind experiment in controlled conditions with replicable proof by reputable non-biased scientists?”

Most (probably all) conspiracies do not exist but your brain does. Use it to do something more powerful than make people afraid of invisible men.

 

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A New Hope

Today’s Lesson: It’s better than it looks. Really.

*****

Scrolling through my social media feed, you would think the world is coming to an end tomorrow–war, blight, social injustice, environmental ruin, non-renewable energy depletion, terrorism, conspiracies, corruption, inequality, and educational bankruptcy.

Why bother living? Why not just follow lemmings off a cliff (quickly, before the cliff erodes away)?

It is easy to be bullied into the media frenzy and the melodrama of friends, media, family, and peers, but there is no reason to panic. We are in perhaps the most optimistic and hopeful time ever. The world is not falling apart. It is coming together like never before.

No one knows how everything will play out in the future (and I suppose that can be scary) but consider this:

  • We are close to solving War. Up until the last half-century, war was horrendous. Both soldiers and civilians were killed in brutal ways, without precision or empathy. War is still horrible (and unfortunately still exists), but we live in the most peaceful time in human history. War is more humanitarian than ever. Much of it is fought with technology, aid is offered during and after conflicts, and casualties are limited as much as possible. There is not the pervasive and permeating fear of a Red State taking over like there was in the eighties, or the fear of a nuclear World War Three (which was a common thread into the nineties). Despite terrorism and religious zealousy, we are closer than ever to solving the problem of war, with peace accords, trade, and social movements.
  • We are close to solving hunger. With biochemistry, genetic modification, and 3-D printing, we might soon be able to create food at will, anywhere, anytime. Star Trek much? (note: I know the title of the post is from Star Wars–it seemed more appropriate…don’t nerd rage me, please.)
  • We are close to solving aging. The human genome has been mapped. As science brings us closer to understanding how human DNA works and technology provides novel ways to “back-up” the human brain, we may, within a generation, launch life expectancy to at least 200 years. As cloning technology becomes cheaper and more efficient, life expectancy could launch to 800 years or more. Imagine a body that can perform as well at age 500 as it could at age 25! If you accidentally walked in front of a bus on your 600th birthday, your consciousness could be downloaded from the last time it was backed up a few minutes earlier, and placed into a new body. You could pick up where you left off!
  • We are close to solving the burden of transportation. Driving is an amazing tool but as population increases and more cars congest the roads, driving is a burden for many of us. It is dangerous, troublesome, and inefficient. That will change soon with driverless cars. You can meditate or nap on your way to work, never worry about drunk drivers, and spend your driving time writing that novel you always wanted to write.
  • We are close to solving interplanetary travel. Private space flight is on the edge of being real and accessible to the masses. Citizen excitement for space flight will fuel a new space race, opening up funding for the most important goal humanity has (if you ask me): colonizing another planet and doubling our chance for long-term survival. Even if one planet is destroyed by nuclear war or a random asteroid, the other planet will carry on the human race, proliferating and finding new life to partner with as we journey further into the cosmos.
  • We are close to solving resources. Solar power is real today and every year there are huge advances in the ways and methods with which we can escape or enhance the infrastructure of oil. Battery technology continues improving and nanotechnology is showing promise to help us do more with less power. Not to mention exotic new materials like nano-carbon and resistive memory chips.

 

There are so many promising things on the horizon, I could go on for many more paragraphs but you have the idea. There will always be people who are fearful of change or insist everything is “gloom and doom”… but you do not have to be one of them.

The world has never been cooler than it is now. Some of the scenarios I mentioned will work. Some might never come to fruition. Some will happen sooner than others. Most will probably look different from we imagine. Today, though, is great because today… they all can happen. The groundwork has been laid and they all have the potential of existing, along with so much more.

The next time you are scrolling through FaceBook or Twitter and clicking every HuffPo piece of disaster-porn click-bait, think about this:

Choose the world you wish to live in: “Woe is me…” or “Whoa–that’s me!”

As always, choose wisely.

 

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This Is 1950

Today’s Lesson: The world has never been better than it is now.

*****

In 1950, there were planes, but flying was for the very wealthy or for people who really needed to fly somewhere. Even when I was growing up in the seventies, flying was expensive and only for special occasions–you dressed up for a flight as if you were going to church.

Most people, even in the seventies, but especially in the fifties, were born, grew up, and died within a 30-mile radius. There wasn’t even Google Earth to virtually visit Paris.

Imagine that. Imagine if all the input you had about religion, morals, ethics, education, art, literature, and culture all came from no further than the town in which you were born. What would your tiny social bubble have you believe? Blacks are less than Whites? Marriage is only between a man and woman? The Russians are coming? The South is still fighting?

What flight did for the world is the same as what the car did for the nation. It opened boundaries and provided access to food, knowledge, and worldviews that transformed society. It allowed scientists to collaborate, politicians to regularly meet in-person, and engineers to stretch both their imaginations and their set of tools and teams.

The internet is doing the same but it is odd because it works in both directions, expanding and contracting at the same time. Thanks to the internet, you can explore the world on a 3-D map and communicate with businesses and people in foreign territories at your leisure. You can stay in touch with family and friends no matter where their journeys take them.

However, you can also shut the world out, filtering your social circle so you only receive news you want, interact with people who believe what you believe, and hear only music you have heard before. You can close the world out and stereotype and spread animosity, unfettered, with people in “your” tribe, losing contact with the rest of the world. You can stagnate, sustaining the dry husk of your potential on a diet of rotting ideas and long-dead ideals.

The nostalgia of the past may seem alluring but, by definition, it is also a whitewashing of history and denial of reality.

Yet, for perhaps the first and only time ever, you can choose to live in 2015 or in 1950.

You know what I am going to say here, right?

Choose wisely.

 

 

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Here’s An Idea… Try Being Nice Instead.

Today’s Lesson: “A teaspoon of sugar helps the medicine go down…” –Mary Poppins

*****

The guy in line in front of me was not only being a jerk but was clearly embarrassing his wife, as well.

“You guys really need to get your act together!” he barked at the clerk. “Ringing up 3 items should not take this long. It’s a hassle to buy anything here.”

The wife was staring intently at the floor, red-faced and silent while the irascible bully continued dressing down the clerk. “You sell nice stuff but I don’t know why anybody would want to buy it.”

The clerk offered a sheepish apology, “I’m sorry for your experience, sir,” she started but her cut her off. “Just ring it up,” he demanded.

I knew if he made just one more comment I was not going to be able to keep from stepping in and asking him what his problem was or why he seemed so angry or just to ask, “Excuse me, but what is it you are hoping to accomplish right now?”

A little part of me was relieved that he had nothing more to say. His wife could not snatch the bag and head out the door fast enough. The clerk said, “Have a blessed da…”

“Whatever,” the guy mumbled as he stormed out. I placed my item near the register and offered a warm smile to the clerk. “I admire your patience,” I said.

The clerk, clearly flustered but making the best of it, said, “You are only my second sale. I hope it goes better.”

Wow. Before you take your frustration out on a stranger, maybe take one second to consider you have no idea what is happening on the other side and show a little empathy before showing your masculine (or feminine) insecurity.

“Don’t worry,” I told the clerk when she handed me my receipt, “You’re doing fine. Have a great day.”

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Trash of the Titans

Today’s Lesson: Remember what a story is and what makes it resonate.

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**Warning: mildly offensive language in this post (most of my posts are foul-language free so I am just letting you know…)**

In the remake of “Clash of the Titans” (the one from 2010 starring Sam Worthington), Perseus (our hero) is rallying his team to fight Medusa who, with one look, can turn a person to stone. He says at the end of a mildly moving speech, “Trust your senses… (dramatic pause)… and don’t look this bitch in the eye!” Cue big swell of music and team roaring in approval.

I imagine a room full of tee-shirt wearing, pimply writers practically ruining their frayed jeans when they laid that gem down. No doubt there were chest bumps all around and someone shouted, “Man, that is SO Badassss!”

But no. It is not. It is just bad writing.

It is supposed to add punch to the speech, but it pulls the viewer out of the film in a couple ways. I am not sure if the word “bitch” was around during the time Greek mythology was created, but it is a contemporary word nonetheless and immediately draws your attention to it and then to the context. “Trust your senses,” followed by, “…And don’t look (her) in the eye!” is terrible advice, considering vision is one of your senses. Not to mention, “trust your senses” is terrible leadership advice. It is like saying, “Okay, team. The situation is bad. Here is our strategy for success, though: do your best.”

Finally, most people in the movie’s target audience know the story of Medusa and Perseus and how it turns out (this is a remake of a movie that was a retelling of a story that is nearly a thousand years old and part of basic elementary school education). Those lines add no “punch” or value to the unnecessary foreshadowing of what is to come. Why not choose clever writing instead? Or just fair writing. Anything that is a step up from groan-inducing.

Apparently, in the 2010 version of the story, instead of having the power to turn people to stone, Medusa had the power to turn writers to Dumb.

When you tell a story (even if you are not a writer), keep in mind one thing that makes it compelling is that the hero faces increasingly challenging choices, with more at stake at each turn.

In fact, a story (if you ask me) is mostly a series of set-ups for bigger and bigger choices. Consider this: “I went to the store yesterday,” is not a compelling story. But, “I went to the store yesterday and saw the tattooed woman in line ahead of me had her hand in her torn denim jacket pocket, around the butt of a gun…”

That probably compels someone to say, “Oh, wow. What did you do?”

You would want to know what choice I made. Did I confront the woman with the gun? Did I pretend not to notice and walk away? Did I call for help?

“I waited until she was at the register and when she moved to pull her hand out of her pocket, I grabbed her elbow and pushed it back so she couldn’t actually extend her arm. Confused, she looked at me, and then looked directly at the cashier…”

Now, you have to know what happened. The stakes just went way up. What did I do? Did I try to subdue her? Did she succeed in pulling the gun anyway (and then what did I do)? When she looked at me, did I slowly shake my head, indicating she better not try anything? Did I call for security? What happened next?

Realizing that she and the cashier were now eye-to-eye, I did the only thing I could do. I shouted at the cashier, “Don’t look this bit*h in the eye!”

But it was too late. The story had already turned to Dumb.

 

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Writing Versus Thinking

Today’s Lesson: Reading is fundamental, but re-reading is essential if you want to be understood.

*****

One of my favorite posts so far this year is this one, about embracing “weirdness” at organizations. It also happens to be one of my least read so far, and that was bugging me until I went back and read it.

When I re-read that post, I realized it was bloated and confusing. It was not written well. I cleaned it up a little but it is still not where I want it. This, I think, is definitely one of the trade-offs to having a daily blog. I write every day and I have a full-time job plus other hobbies and social commitments. There is not much time for refining or editing.

Typically, the process is I write it once and I read it once, editing as I go. What the wonderful spelling and grammar checker built into WordPress misses and what I miss… are missed. There is bound to be minor errors in some (probably most) of my posts but I have learned to be okay with them for the sake of moving on and continuing to put out new material.

It is rare that I go back and re-read a post once it is published, but the “Office Spaced” post, I thought, was a gem and I was wondering why it ranked so low. Was it the time of day I posted? The day of the week? The title? Keywords? Was Google not finding it?

I by no means consider myself an expert or authoritative blogger and I have never gone out of my way to build a platform and audience but I like to know what hits and what misses and have at least a general idea why.

What I have mostly found is if it is written well, people usually find it (and share it). The funny thing is, I am certain I fall into the same trap as many would-be writers. When I go back and read my writing, I fill in the blanks with my mind. In other words, I know what I meant and that is what I hear in my head.

Going back and reading your work again a few days or weeks later, and then editing, is a common trick to prevent filling in the blanks. The idea is no longer fresh at that point so you don’t remember what you meant and read it more like a new reader.

The point, as you have by now guessed, is this: it always sounds better in your head.

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Would You Pay 30 Dollars to See 300 Million Dollars?

Today’s Lesson: Movie theaters are still worth going to.

*****

Perhaps sadly, I remember when movie tickets jumped from $3.00 to $4.25 in my neighborhood. I could not believe how expensive going to the movies was getting and I have complained about the prices ever since (and still do).

Dropping $30 for 2 Imax tickets to see a mediocre movie (plus another $20 in outrageously over-priced concession items) makes a night at the show something to think twice about.

Comedian Louis C.K. thought twice about it. He has a funny bit where he talks about the production costs of movies. I am paraphrasing but he basically says, “Movies cost as much as 300 million dollars to produce. If you have 300 million dollars, why produce a movie? I would pay you 30 dollars just to see a room filled with 300 million dollars!”

He is right. If that was a museum exhibit, I would happily plunk down the price of a movie to see it! His quirky observation gave me a new perspective on going to the show. It made me realize I am not just going to look at the art or experience a thrill ride of emotions. I am also going to see what a group of people thought was a good use of 30 thousand, 300 thousand, or even 300 million dollars. Movies have become rather fascinating in that light.

If you think about it, going to the movies might even still be a good value for your investment. How much would you pay to watch someone burn 300 million dollars or turn it into 3 billion dollars by seeing how many seats they can fill and how many other people can be enticed to watch it and talk about it?

 

 

 

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