Posts tagged essay
Posts tagged essay
Members of the Board of Education, President Smith, Principal Gonzalez, Faculty, Parents, and most of all, members of the Class of 2027. Congratulations on your high school education!
On this wonderful day, I am honored to have been invited back to Smithtown High School, twenty-five years after I walked across this stage to receive my diploma. Today, I will give you your final high school lesson. Let me give you a few pieces of advice you probably haven’t gotten during the past four years.
First of all, none of you know what to fear. You think you should be afraid of failure. Nope. Failure is good for you. I fail at tons of stuff. This robe? It took me four tries to get it on.
Maybe you think you should be afraid of being mediocre. Please. The only scary thing about “mediocre” is how hard it is to spell.
You want to know what you should fear? I’ll tell you.
That’s right. Clowns. Clowns are the single most horrible thing on the face of the earth. Don’t believe me? Well, then either you’re an idiot, or you’ve never seen a clown. And if you’ve never seen a clown, why don’t you believe me? You must be assuming that I’m dumb. Well, I’m not dumb! You’re dumb. And a jerk. And an assface. Stupid, jerky assface.
Where was I? Right. Clowns. FEAR THEM.
Second… oh, wait. Hang on a second.
Sorry, someone’s texting me.
Heh, that’s funny.
Sorry about that. Anyway. We’ve talked about what you should fear. Now I want to talk about what you should love.
Yeah, you should love your parents. And you should love your siblings. Even if your brother becomes a successful musician and doesn’t take you on tour with him, or if your other brother fails to keep his promise to take you to Disneyland for thirty years, or even if your sister starts a greeting card company based entirely on random things you’ve said that are TOTALLY TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT, still, you should always love your family.
But more importantly, there’s someone else who needs your love.
Some of you might have heard of a place called Antarctica. Antarctica was a huge, frozen continent at the South Pole until about five years ago, when the whole thing melted. Penguins used to live there, but now they have no home.
That’s why I started my charity, the Penguin Organization Of Butlers Undertaking Treasured Trades, or the POOBUTT. The POOBUTT connects domesticated penguins with loving adoptive families. This way, the penguin gets a home, and the family gets a penguin butler. Please support the POOBUTT by adopting a penguin butler today. And don’t think you can’t adopt one just because you’re going to college. We have miniature penguin butlers for dorm rooms!
Trust me on this. No one who is touched by the POOBUTT ever forgets it. And if you don’t believe me, visit our website, where you can get a complete tour of the POOBUTT, and find out exactly how it works from the inside.
So, to recap: Fear clowns. Love penguins. Look at what’s in your heart, and then look at what’s in the POOBUTT.
Thank you, and good luck.
Earlier this week, I checked an item off my bucket list: I had lunch in Sam Spade’s restaurant.
A bit of explanation might be necessary. Sam Spade is the protagonist of the detective novels of Dashiell Hammett. His most famous novel is The Maltese Falcon, which takes place in the 1920s in San Francisco. During the novel, Spade eats at John’s Grill on Ellis Street. Today, almost 100 years later, John’s Grill is still there, with wood-paneled walls and slow-moving staff, where they serve free refills on coffee with your old-fashioned burger.
I encourage this kind of tourism. Anybody who enjoys reading knows the experience of stepping into the other worlds that books offer. Not as many people actually engage in book tourism. Bloomsday is getting to be a big deal in Dublin, where Joyce fans trace the story of Ulysses, and the UK is peppered with blue signs marking the country’s ties to art and culture. I am a fan of both of these, but I think it is worth remembering that in America, we have plenty of literary history of our own.
I live in Los Angeles, which is the site of the novels by Dashiell Hammett’s successor (and in my opinion, superior) Raymond Chandler. In 1950s LA, Chandler’s hero Philip Marlowe travels from bar to bar seeking justice for his clients. He also drinks a seemingly never-ending chain of gin gimlets. The gin gimlet is one of my go-to drinks, so I have made a point of testing the gin gimlet in every historic LA bar I frequent.
Not all the bartenders I meet know the drink’s history, but they usually love to hear about it, and more than one has told me he would share the story with future patrons looking for suggestions.
Every recollected piece of history originates with someone. I enjoy partaking of the breadcrumbs left out for me by others, as well as leaving new trails for others to follow. To my fellow bibliophiles, I recommend both.
Friday Morning: Eyestrain (Me)
I woke up at 4:30 in the morning in Chicago. I had attended a work event the night before, and I was scheduled to take a redeye flight back to LA to attend my reunion. Sleeping on the flight was difficult, so instead I read the second half of Steve Martin’s novel On Beauty, which in addition to ostensibly being about beauty (as well as being about a being who is about beauty), is also really good.
After spending four hours riding a $10 million aircraft and reading under the light of a forty-eight-cent light bulb, the Los Angeles sunlight was pretty blinding. This immediately complicated the task of reading the text messages on my phone, which were supposed to lead me to my friend Mike, whom I was giving a ride. Unable to read my phone, I left the terminal to try to find him in baggage claim. When he did not appear to be there, I called him, only to discover he was still inside. I tried to get back near the gates while he made his way out. We eventually found each other after the better part of an hour.
If you’re having trouble imagining this, please refer to this scene from Scrubs. This is a plausible comparison because a) I was happy to see Mike, and b) he’s a doctor.
The ride to our college from the airport did nothing to help the eye strain I was developing because I had left my sunglasses in my luggage, and conversations with Mike invariably lead to an alternation between eye-widening glares and grimacing squints. By the time we got to our destination, I’m pretty sure I was legally blind.
Friday Evening: Hanover #1 (Me)
When playing beer pong, you drink whenever the other guys sink a ball. This means that in any given match, the winners will end up drinking less than the losers. Over time, however, this process reverses itself, since drinking less than the other guy in a series of matches will still add up. Unlike the losers, the winners keep drinking. Thus, if your goal is to drink as little as possible, your strategy should be to lose quickly, so that you only have to drink for one round.
The worst thing that could happen is repeatedly winning at the last minute, after your opponents have forced you to drink almost all of your cups.
This happened to my friend Alex and me. Mind you, it wasn’t my plan to lose. I’m just bad at enough at beer pong that I looked exactly someone who was throwing the game without trying to look like throwing the game. Matched with Alex’s ability, we managed to win several times, but always very slowly.
We didn’t win, which is fine. I just wish we hadn’t done so well.
Saturday Morning: Scraped Knees (Me)
If there was a symbolic totem that summarized the full experience of my reunion, it was the Bouncy Castle Obstacle Course.
That’s right. You heard me: Bouncy Castle Obstacle Course.
Recent college graduates reliving their glory days, especially those who went to school in Southern California, are not unlike four-year-olds. We like having fun with our friends. We like hanging out in out bathing suits all day. We like running around in the sun. We like doing all of the above while getting sprayed with a hose.
The difference is that we turn the activities into mildly tipsy relay races.
So it was with the Bouncy Castle Obstacle Course. In a series of tag-off relays, I and a dozen other deliriously elated twenty-somethings ran the plastic gauntlet for what felt like hours. We were having so much fun that I did not realize I had completely torn up the skin on my knees until late that evening on the dance floor.
But we’ll get to that.
Saturday Afternoon: Whiplash (Me)
Eventually, we decided that relay races were not elaborate enough. So someone pulled out some tarpaulin and laid it down a grassy slope, soaked the tarps with dish soap, and shot them with the hose. This was to be home plate in a game of Sloshball.
Sloshball is a combination of kickball, a slip-and-slide, and Calvinball (a game where you make up the rules as you go). Unlike most base-running games, in Sloshball, sliding into home is mandatory. On one such run, I took the slip with a little too much momentum and scraped up the grass. The grass, being the resentful sort, got back at me by hitting the back of my head with the ground.
I’ve had limited turning radius in my neck ever since. Fortunately, this entry goes down as whiplash and not a concussion, because I’ve suffered no other consequences from the hit. Besides a little pain when trying to turn my head, I’ve been completely banana noisewater flickersnish.
Saturday Afternoon: Sunburn (Me + Others)
Did you read the last two? Good. Enough said.
Saturday Evening: Hangover #2 (Others)
Quick biology lesson: a hangover is caused by a number of coincident factors producing the effect of ill feeling. Alcohol is essentially a toxin, so obviously the more of it you put in your body, the worse you’ll feel. It’s also diarrheic, which means alcohol will dehydrate you, robbing your body of vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes, not to mention the water itself.
So if you want to exacerbate a hangover, a good way to do so would be to combine drinking with sweaty, aerobic activity. Dancing in a hot room works well.
Now if you’re looking for a real kick-you-between-the-eyes, make-you-wanna-die-while-you-cry-to-momma kind of headsplitter, add in a game of Point and Shoot.
The rules are simple. The bartender pours shots of all types: fuzzy navels, duck farts, and for good measure, the occasional aptly named Brain Damage. Some points at you. You shoot one back. Stir to the rhythm of some thumping dubstep. Repeat.
Follow in the morning with a severe aversion to light and a newfound interest in pitiful sobbing.
Early Sunday Morning: Banged-Up Knee & Lacerated Back (Others)
I wasn’t there for this one, as I had gone to bed after tending to a few of the recipients of Hangover #2. But from what I hear, there was a fight on the roof. I don’t know exactly what happened, except that the next morning at breakfast, I saw two lifelong friends both looking ashen, one with a limp, the other with bandage wrapped around his torso, and they weren’t making eye contact.
Sunday Morning: Nostalgia (Me + Others)
For me, college was a time spent learning to better understand myself, and not coincidentally, it was also when I met some of my favorite people in the world.
I saw many of those people this weekend, and the fresh reminder of their sheer awesomeness, and the sad, seldom frequency with which we see each other, caused severe twinges of nostalgia.
The word “nostalgia” comes from ancient Greek, roughly meaning “the return of a familiar pain.” Among the other injuries it dished out, my reunion took its pound of flesh by reminding me of the distance that exists between me and so many of the people in my life whom I love. And yet, like all nostalgia, this pain contained hints of both regret and hope.
Relationships strain when they stretch, but they only break when we let them. As I nurse my various wounds, I reflect on the bonds in my life that, as my friends scatter once again, are pulled tight. I promise to keep them as sturdy as I can, and maybe, when the music from Saturday night’s party fades, I’ll reach out to those bonds and strum them to the tune of old, familiar songs.
Today, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers came out, and Mariano Rivera’s nearly twenty-year career in Yankee baseball may have ended due to a knee injury. Consequently, I’ve been thinking about heroes a lot.
As a kid, I was a huge comic book nerd, especially for the kind of shining knights who joined the Avengers. In my room, I had posters of Iron Man and Captain America, the former drawn by my father when I was six or seven, and the latter a print that Winghead shared with Batman (it was the nineties).
As an adult, I can articulate what I always knew on a subconscious level: much of the superhero genre rests on problematic tropes. For starters, if a hero’s identity is built around gifts and talents oriented toward combat (e.g. adamantium claws, magic hammers, etc.), then that hero will only be interesting when he is in combat, which necessitates equally powerful villains. Superman might have started by bashing burglars and wife-beaters, but it was the introduction of Lex Luthor that really gave Action Comics energy and life.
Why are interesting villains bad? Well, they aren’t, necessarily, but in comics they have tended to lead to troubling places. In the Liefeld-infused dark times that were the nineties, the only difference between heroes and villains often seemed to be that heroes had their name on the cover. There was nothing actually heroic about them.
Nor were the stories always relatable. For whatever their virtues, franchises like X-Men have always felt a little distant to me. The more fantastic a world becomes, the harder it can be for the reader to relate it to their own experience. If the heroes are fantastic and implausible, and can only relate to equally fantastic and implausible villains, readers will eventually find themselves reading stories about a cybernetic time-travelling telepath and his cloned twin brother fighting on the moon.
Books like Iron Man and Captain America suffered from this a little less. To be sure, these books embellished reality with things like Vita Ray-infused steroids and physics-defying suits of armor, but at heart, these stories were still about people who were both admirable and relatable. Iron Man isn’t a hero because of his armor. He is a hero because he is brilliant, and he directs that genius to worthwhile ends. Likewise, Captain America isn’t interesting because of what he does, which is mostly carrying around a star-spangled hubcap; he’s compelling because of who he is. Even today, Cap is at his most gripping when his greatest asset is his ethos:
Captain America: Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — “No, you move.”
Spider-Man: …Can I, like, carry your books to school? For the rest of my life?
Which brings me to Mariano Rivera. It’s hard for me to believe that he has been relief pitching for the Yankees since I was in junior high. Even more amazing is the consistency of his work; there is no one else in the game with a comparable reputation (or record) for saving games. As one friend of mine has put it, “I’m not entirely sure how God works, but I’m pretty sure Mariano Rivera is involved.”
Now, Rivera’s freak knee injury may have ended his career. This feels abrupt because it is. No matter how old Rivera got, we were not ready for this moment because Mo has a rare quality that Captain America shares: consistent virtue.
Consistency isn’t always a good thing, but when a man can exercise a talent or principle day after day, we start to admire him. To be human means to be flawed, and we look up to those we perceive to make fewer mistakes than us. We idolize them for their reliability. We aspire to their standard.
There’s a Captain America story from the nineties called “Operation: Rebirth” that stands out as idealistic. This is doubly remarkable considering a) it was the nineties, and b) Cap was thought to have died. At his funeral, fellow Avenger Hercules said:
On Olympus, we measure wisdom against Athena, speed against Hermes, and power against Zeus. But we measure courage… against Captain America.
Cap can die, Mo can retire, and we will mourn them briefly, but not forever. A hero’s legacy isn’t his continued presence, or even his actions; it’s his example. Tree on the river of truth, polestar in the sky, Mo the Messiah… pick your analogy. A hero’s example lasts as long we choose to regard it.
This is the story of the summer I spent in Austria making an accidental ass of myself.
In 2006, I won a fellowship to spend a summer working abroad. Thus it was that I ended up in the sleepy little town of Eisenstadt, Austria. Nestled off Lake Neusiedl just 30 scant miles south of Vienna, Eisenstadt is a thousand-year-old town most famous for its castle, the Esterhazy Palace, which is itself most famous for its former in-house music composer, Franz Josef Haydn.
Haydn spent twenty years at the castle as the crown prince’s Kapellmeister, and today, the castle is used mainly to host a never-ending concert series honoring Haydn’s work. The organization that puts on these concerts, the Haydn Festspiele, was to be my employer for the summer.
The Esterhazy Palace sits at the top of a hill, with the town descending around it on all sides. My apartment was in an extended-stay hotel at the bottom of this hill. To get to work each morning, I had to ride a bicycle about a mile uphill through narrow, cobblestoned streets. Visually, it was a beautiful way to start the day.
Climactically, it was as damp as the inside of Swamp Thing’s gym locker.
Allow me to explain: much of Austria is mountainous, with brisk, refreshing breezes all through the summer. Eisenstadt, however, lies in the lowlands of the Burgenland province, which is gorgeous, but greets the day with a sensation that is frequently stifling.
It was through this quagmire (ba-dum-ching) that I rode my bike through Eisenstadt each morning. By the time I reached the castle, I had always worked up a good sweat. To make matters worse, the castle is a national landmark, which makes renovating the castle – let alone changing it – a bureaucratic nightmare of Kafkaesque proportions.
This means that the Esterhazy Palace has no elevator. And my office was on the fourth floor.
When you combine a) 90% humidity with b) the mile-long bike ride uphill; c) four flights of stairs; and d) the genes of a pale, hairy Irishman; you get e) one very sweaty intern.
I tried to take my daily drench in stride. I was living in beautiful, bucolic Austria for the summer, and I was working in a castle. I could deal with a little clamminess.
Now, Austrians are a friendly people, and as time went on, my colleagues became increasingly chatty during the lunch hour. Small talk is not all that different in Austria than it is in the States, so my colleagues asked the usual frivolous but well-intended questions, in German, of course.
“Are you enjoying the concerts?” one would ask.
“Oh, absolutely,” I would reply.
“And you’re [something] the market on Sundays?” another inquired.
“Mmm,” I said, to mask my confusion.
It went on like this, generally without incident, until one day near the end of my first week, someone asked me the question that changed everything.
“And what do you like least about Eisenstadt?” someone asked.
Without a moment’s hesitation, I knew the answer. “Oh, I love it here,” I said. “Except for how humid it is.”
There was a pause. Everyone sort of stared at me and then exchanged awkward glances.
“…Humid?” someone asked uncertainly.
“Oh, yes,” I replied enthusiastically. “It’s so humid here! I don’t know how you can all stand how humid it gets.”
A couple of them started to smirk. “Ohhhh,” one particularly amused-looking young woman said. “Humid. Of course. How humid is it, would you say?”
“So humid!” I replied, nodding my head vigorously. “I’ve never been anywhere so humid in my life! And I should know!”
“How do you mean?” a grinning gentleman asked.
“Well, where I come from, it’s very humid, especially in the summer.”
“Does it help that you’re all wearing bathing suits?” my boss asked.
“You would think,” I said, “but the summer is when everyone goes outside to be active, so if anything, the bathing suits just make it worse.”
The room exploded with laughter. I was confused, but chalked it up to my inexperience with the Austrian sense of humor.
Humidity became a topic of regular conversation at lunch. It seemed the group wanted nothing more than to pepper me with questions about my experiences with humidity. It was odd, but at least I felt accepted.
Then, one night, about two weeks into my stay in Eisenstadt, I went to the local street festival. An Austrian friend from college (we’ll call her “Hilde”) had helped me get the fellowship, and now she was going to introduce me to all her friends. We were to meet at the local biergarten, and when I arrived, I found myself facing the most collectively attractive group of people I’d ever seen. I immediately and desperately wanted these people to like me.
As Hilde took me around to make introductions, conversation proved to be halting and awkward. After the third or fourth false start, I decided to bring out the big guns. Hilde introduced me to a good-looking young man named Rolf. Not wanting to falter once again, I asked him, “So, what do you think of Eisenstadt’s humidity?”
Rolf stared at me. “What?” he asked.
“The humidity,” I repeated. “Do you find it hard to deal with how humid it is?”
Hilde stared at me with what looked like barely-restrained horror. “Greg, what are you talking about?”
“The humidity!” I said. “Every morning, by the time I get to work, I’m sweating from the humidity.”
Hilde’s expression completely changed, and she doubled over with laughter. “Oh, Greg,” she said while trying to catch her breath. “You mean huMIDity.”
“Isn’t that what I said?”
It was not. The usual word in German for humid is “feucht,” a term I had not yet learned at that point. The only word I knew was “schwül,” which, while not wrong, is not the word most Germans would use. It’s kind of like how people might say “humid” rather than “muggy.”
Unfortunately, I had not been saying “schwül.” I had been saying “schwul.” The difference is the pronunciation of a single vowel, but the meaning is entirely different. Schwül means “humid,” but schwul means “gay.”
I had spent the first two weeks of my summer telling everyone that I found their town oppressively gay.
Once I was in on the joke, I began the long process of apologizing to pretty much everyone I had met for sounding like a complete bigot. Everyone was thoroughly understanding, forgiving, and amused.
Nonetheless, I was mortified. If you can’t figure out why, go back and re-read the dialogue, but replace every use of the word “humid” or “humidity” with “gay” or “gayness.”
This weekend is our mother’s 50th birthday. This is a special occasion. Besides Dad, Mom is the only person in our immediate family to turn 50 so far.
…Anyway, I normally use family birthdays as an occasion to anthropomorphize birthday presents and write a monologue. For reasons yet to be revealed (mwahaha), I can’t really do that with Mom’s birthday present, so instead, I present to you a series of reflections I’ve had this past week about our Mom.
The Highlight Molly Moment:
When Molly was a baby, she was… affectionate. To wit, she had a very strong propensity for sucking on Mom’s face. My theory is that this was her baby brain’s best understanding of kissing.
As kids, we found this hysterical, so we would encourage Mom to get Molly to smack against her face as often as possible.
And yes, Molly has since stopped doing this.
The Highlight Joe Moment:
It will come as a surprise to precisely none of the regular readers of this blog that Joe is a jazz aficionado. What you might not know is that Mom was our introduction to the genre. All our first exposures to Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, and even Michael Bublé came through Mom.
Back in the 90s, Mom even recorded an album, where she covered the songbook of Frank Sinatra, John Denver, and the late, great Nancy Lamott. When a musicologist writes Joe’s bio someday, they’ll look back on our Mom’s album as a proto-influence of his work.
The Highlight Brittany Moment:
This one’s a little self-serving, but if you don’t like that, too bad; you’re not my editor.
Our family has your standard latter-generation New York Catholic heritage, coming from all over Europe. The first time I can remember beginning to learn about any of this was when Brittany was a girl, and had to produce an elementary-school project about her heritage. Mom got on the phone with Grandma about pulling some of the “old things” out of storage. The old things turned out to be Scottish paraphernalia belonging to Grandma and her family.
Brittany’s project is the earliest memory I have of learning about our family’s Gaelic heritage. This comes up every now and again, like my deep jealousy over Brittany’s recent trip to Ireland.
The Highlight Andrew Moment:
Mom loves to tell stories about when we were little, but the ones she tells with the most relish are about Andrew.
I won’t tell the dinner/bath-time story (you’re welcome, Andrew), but it would be wrong to shy from telling the story of the timeless home video starring Andrew and me, when Andrew was barely a toddler. Mom and Dad had purchased bunk beds for us. The night before the beds were constructed, our parents laid the new mattresses out on our bedroom floor, where Andrew and I could have a transitory adventure. Mom and Dad documented this occasion on an old, massive 80s-era video recorder that Dad used to lug around as our family’s designated camera man.
Throughout the tape, the camera is directed at a four-year-old me who, then as now, cannot shut up. Meanwhile, in the background, unbeknownst to any of us, Andrew has invented a game. By standing on his mattress and kicking his feet out in front of him, he can plop safely back down to earth, none the poorer for the trip.
The kicker is the little laugh that Toddler Andrew emits every time he does this. The tape goes on like this, with Andrew bouncing over and over. We never learned about Andrew’s game until watching the tape until years later. As I said, it has since become one of Mom’s favorite stories, so much so that her telling of the story sticks out in my head more sharply than the video itself.
The Highlight Greg Moment:
There is any number of stories I could tell, but if you were to ask me when I have felt most grateful for my mother, one moment stands out.
I was living in Germany, and I had just left a program full of other Americans to move into an apartment in downtown Cologne. The apartment was dirty, rundown, and remote. It had no furniture, it smelled like five years worth of bad cigarettes, and the only roommate managed – without ever seeming to actually be in the apartment – to steal my food and leave the kitchen a perpetual sty. I felt absolutely and utterly alone. So, I did what any self-respecting 22-year-old man would do in that situation.
I called my mother.
And she got me through it. My experience in Germany went uphill from there, but it was conversations with Mom that made feel like I was still connected to the world, that my life had not petered away into the distance, that I was not alone.
Which, after all, is what a good mom does.
So thanks, Mom. We love you. And Happy Birthday.
My siblings and I are not typically in the habit of reblogging, and normally I don’t give that a second thought. Today, however, I saw a post on Tumblr that discussed Lance Corporal William Kyle Carpenter. Also, an old family friend who happens to be an army chaplain came to visit today. These two events provoked similar thoughts, and rather than chalk this up to coincidence, I’d like to share these reflections with you.
One note: Lance Corporal Carpenter’s heroics have been eloquently described elsewhere on the internet, so I won’t dishonor him by trying to awkwardly reiterate what happened. Instead, I’ll skip straight to what his example means to me.
For those of you who have not yet finished college, the years immediately after graduation can be a time of anxiety and angst, as the pressure mounts to turn potential into performance. Often, the stress focuses on career choices, the whither-grad-school question, and relationships. These are all serious concerns, to be sure, and I don’t mean to belittle them. But Kyle Carpenter’s example comes at a timely point in the year for putting these concerns into perspective, since his experience mirrors the message of Christmas.
One of my favorite things about Christmas is how utterly mundane its key players are. In the ancient world, no one wrote poems about commoners or peasants. All the early epics record the escapades of great warriors and kings, but never simple, decent people eking out a living. The Christmas story taught the world that there is no such thing as an inherently mundane life, and that greatness is achieved in how we respond to our circumstances, particularly if we respond with love to the point of self-sacrifice. In a moment of real stress, Kyle Carpenter responded with precisely that: the courage of self-sacrifice. The rest of his life may prove to be “mundane,” but by any meaningful metric, he has already succeeded far more than I ever will.
I am grateful to live in a world where such an understanding of achievement is not only credible, but possibly the truest notion we have of what success means.
Hello. Um, I’m Greg…
…And it’s been seventeen days since I last yelled at an inanimate object.
(Clapping and occasional exclamations of “Yeah!” and “You go!”)
Thank you. I feel good, you know? It’s liberating to accept that I have this problem, and that I cannot restore myself to sanity alone. You know, that I need help to see that the printer isn’t really out to get me... probably.
…Sorry. Still adjusting. I know, I know, I shouldn’t think like that, because after all…
(“Objects don’t feel. The feeling is in me.”)
Right, exactly. It’s just so hard, you know? It really does seem like the printer only breaks when I’m in a real hurry. Like last month. That was my rock bottom moment. I had this big presentation to give at the ten o’clock “week ahead,” right? And of course, the projector is broken. Not because the projector is a begrudging little prick who can’t let go of that one joke I made two years ago about how its fan sounds like a diesel-fueled weed whacker, and he’s been in cahoots with the printer ever since, and they’ve been slowly and seamlessly plotting to ensure my complete and utter professional ruin.
No. That would be crazy.
Anyway, the projector’s broken, so I have to make copies of my slides for everyone. So I run down to the copy room, and on my way there I can already feel the sweat forming on my upper lip, but I say to myself, “Calm down, you can do this. Objects don’t feel. The feeling is in me. Objects don’t feel. The feeling is in me. My feelings are a choice. My feelings are a choice…”
But when I get to the copy room, the fan on the printer sounds – and I know this is isn’t real – deeper than usual, almost like the sound is coming out of a subwoofer, or a submarine, or the subterranean depths of a forgotten oblivion where hope itself is drowned in inky blackness. Something with “sub.”
And as I put my slides into the – what do you call it – the printer feed, I hear—I mean, I definitely do not hear the printer not say in a not terrifying and not at all real and completely fake and non-existent echoing voice:
“LASCIATE OGNE SPERANZA, VOI CH’INTRATE.”
And this is particularly unsettling, right, because I don’t know Italian, and I’m starting to doubt that the printer isn’t talking if it’s, you know, talking in a language that I don’t know.
But then I say to myself, “Hey, you don’t need to know Italian to imagine this! You’re a bright guy. You probably just picked up that phrase somewhere.”
Then the printer says, “NON SEI PAZZO, E NON SI PARLA ITALIANO. IL MIO NOME È DISPERAZIONE. IO VENGO DAL QUINTO CERCHIO.”
…And I don’t know about you, but to me that seemed like a lot of Italian for a guy who does not speak Italian. Meaning me. Not the printer. Who, by now, I’m pretty sure does speak Italian.
Which would mean, of course, that the printer is actually, you know… talking.
In a voice that sounds like a hundred wailing souls… and also kind of like my Aunt Marjorie.
So, I do what I’ve learned. I repeat my mantra, “People are people, and objects are objects. People are people, and objects are objects. People are people, and objects are objects. People are people, and objects are objects…”
And it’s worked. Though my eyes are still scrunched tightly, I can hear that the wailing has stopped. It’s quiet in the copy room, peacefully quiet. I breathe a sigh of relief, and open my eyes.
And the copy machine is on fire.
It’s a huge fire, made of big, dark flames, and in the middle of the flames is a gaping black chasm, and out of the chasm in those awful wailing voices, the same word comes over and over again, “VIENI. VIENI. VIENI…”
So I lose it. I yell, “Get behind me, Satan! Thou shalt not seize me in thy villainous grasp! With my last breath, I stab at thee!”
And I wrench the lever off the paper cutter, big blade and all, and I start whacking at the printer, over, and over, and over, until the flames have been stamped out, the voices have stopped, and the printer is dead. Gone. Silent.
At which point I realize my boss is standing behind me, no doubt alarmed that I’ve just killed the printer with an impromptu machete.
And that’s how I lost my job. But that’s okay. I’ve learned that I have a problem. And I’m dealing with it. And I’m so grateful to all of you for being with me through this difficult—
…Did anyone else hear the coffee machine say something racist?
Thank you all for coming. Let me begin by saying that the rumors you’ve heard are true. I have decided to update my name, my mission, and my identity to better reflect the needs of the twenty-first century.
From now on, I will be known as the Greener Lantern.
Why “Greener,” you might ask? In this era of climate change and ecological instability, the environment needs a champion, and there is no better hero than me to stand for sustainability. From now on, I will strive to promote a cleaner future, one where earth’s heroes have a neutral carbon footprint, and where villains will be offset by the compost of justice.
I will now take questions. Yes?
No, I will no longer be using the Green Lantern Battery on Oa. As you know, no scientists – not even the Guardians of the Universe – have yet invented a renewable fuel source for faster-than-light interplanetary travel. I cannot conscionably continue to exude emissions as I travel through the galaxies. Next question.
Really? Are you sure?
Well, maybe it doesn’t matter if I exude carbon dioxide in outer space, but… I’m still not going to travel to Oa anymore, just to be safe. Next?
Excellent question. From now on, my ring will be solar-powered.
Sure, follow-ups are fine.
…I hadn’t thought about that. Well, when it’s cloudy, it’s usually windy as well, so that’s when I’ll use the backup wind turbine.
No, I’m not concerned about that. Sure, once in a blue moon it will be both cloudy and windless, but how often could that be?
…OK, nighttime is a fair example. Let’s move on to someone else. Yes?
Yeah, I suppose that “once in a blue moon” was an ironic turn of phrase, in retrospect. We’re getting off topic. Does anyone have a question about how I plan to fight global warming?
Thank you. I will be collecting CO2 emissions with my ring and hurling them into the sun.
What do you mean, “It doesn’t work like that?”
Fine. Then I’ll carry the extra CO2 to the sun. Next question. Yes?
No, it’ll be fine. I’m a Green Lantern—a Greener Lantern, actually, and we don’t get burned up when we get too close to the sun, so…
OK, I’m being told by one of my aides that we do burn up when we get too close to the sun, so… I guess I’ll just dump the CO2 in space, instead. Yeah, you. What?
You’re twisting it! I absolutely do not think that dumping CO2 in space “completely defeats the purpose of no longer flying to Oa.” It’s very different.
…Because it is! Someone else: you, in the back.
Yes, I definitely think I’m the best superhero to fight for the environment.
…Aquaman is not a better choice. I have a ring that can literally do anything. He talks to fish.
Now, wait a second, that’s not… I didn’t mean to offend fish.
Sure, well, I’m sure that polls among fish—
Sorry, polls among Aquatic-Americans do favor Aquaman, but once they see me in action, they’ll change their minds. Yes, you, ma’am.
Because I have a freaking power ring, that’s why they’ll change their minds! Look, this press conference has been a severe disappointment, so I’m going to cut this short. Before I take the last question, let me simply say that once you see the Greener Lantern in action, you’ll know that I’m the best defender the environment has. Okay, you sir, last question.
Of course I know Green Arrow, what about him?
Changed it to what?
GREENEST ARROW?! Why that son of a—excuse me, I need to go see… someone about… something. If someone could just open the skylight so I can fly out of here. Yes, what?
…Really. Scattered thunderstorms. Okay. Um, could anyone lend me bus fare?
On Wednesday, Brittany pointed out (fairly) that I can get a wee bit cranky sometimes. This post is all about my best efforts at thwarting that tendency.
High on the list of tragedies of modern life is our excessive apathy. The monotony of life dulls our consciousness to the miracle of existence, and we lose our ability to feel wonder. It’s important, I think, to remind ourselves every now and again of the simple and yet incredible fact that we exist, and that we can see the world with fresh eyes. Much of this happens by destroying the illusions our limited perceptions create for us. Here are some of my favorite mind games to play. The names are my own, but the ideas are all stolen from others:
1. Destroy the Sky
On a clear, starry night, go outside into an open field. If there’s not much ambient light in your neighborhood, a lawn or flat rooftop will work as well.
Lie down and stare up into the stars. Focus on the idea that you are lying on a giant ball called the earth. Think of the ground below you not as a floor, but as a wall. Imagine yourself stuck to that wall, and that the stars are not above you, but in front of you.
Here’s the really freaky part: it’s not a trick. You weren’t really looking “up” in the first place. That’s just a word we use to form a frame of reference for our world. It’s just as accurate to think of it as looking out.
2. Destroy the Codex
This trick helps us think about words more thoughtfully. It works for all languages, but we’re communicating in English right now, so we’ll stick with that.
This game comes in two parts. First, pick a mundane word you use every day, like “tree.” Say it over, and over, and over again. Tree, Tree, Tree, Tree, Tree…
After a while, the word ceases to feel like it has any meaning. It’s just a sound. Second, visualize an actual tree, and call it a nonsense word, like Snift. Create examples for yourself. “I sat under the snift. Later, I picked some apples off the apple snift and brought them home.”
You can almost feel the word “snift” coming to mean “tree” in your brain. All language is a human construct. That means every word we’ve ever said was invented by someone, and we have the power to invent new ones.
3. Destroy Indestructibility
Sometimes it’s good to remember that life and health are gifts. Go outside, take a deep breath, and run in a straight line, at full speed, while holding your breath. Note how quickly you run out of oxygen and your whole body begins to scream for air. That’s how easy it is to break the container for everything that you are. I really think if everyone had to do that once a day, then cigarette sales would crater.
4. Destroy the Ego
Lastly, and most relevantly to today’s topic, the Halo Effect is my preferred method of self-induced civility.
Begin by thinking about your soul. I don’t really care if you believe in God or an afterlife. Just focus on whatever you think makes you an intrinsically valuable being.
Imagine that your soul manifests itself by surrounding you in a blue glow. It’s very important to associate this glow with the fact that you have a soul. Tie the two ideas together in your mind.
Now, walk through a crowded area, such as your school, your office, or, if you live in a big city, just down the street. Imagine each person you pass is surrounded with a blue glow, just like yours.
Using this trick, I’ve tried to teach myself that other people are every bit as real as I am. They think and feel in the same way I do. Maybe it will work for you, too.
And if not, try lying down. Maybe the jerks will go flying off into space.