Monthly Archives: December 2018

Preparing for that Last Goodbye

goodbye gravestone

(Image/Thrive Global)

Nothing sparks contemplation for me quite as intensely as the news of someone’s death.

One of my best friends from childhood—the best man in my wedding, and my roommate for four years of college—lost his father.

I just found out.

And then my head goes to the place where my fingers need the keyboard.

No other life events affect me like death. The same must be true for many of you. The news—the shock and inflexible reality of it—forces you to rewire your brain in real-time, because what you know to be true is no longer true. And there’s no do-overs or rewind buttons. There’s just adjusting uncomfortably—sometimes very painfully—to the new world you didn’t want nor ask to travel to.

My friend’s dad was a doctor. A surgeon. A kind and funny and generous one.

In addition to welcoming me into his home for what seems like the majority of weekends throughout my senior year of high school, this man indirectly had a profound impact on my life.

He graduated from the same university I attended. So when his son and I were exploring college options, he was the one who drove us to campus one weekend to check it out and see a football game.

That trip cemented my friend and I’s decision to attend that school together and be roommates.

It was at that school where I switched majors so that I could make writing my career.

And it was at that school where I would meet the young woman who would later be my wife and son’s mother.

If Doc doesn’t invite me to visit his alma mater with his son that fall weekend in 1996, then almost everything about my life—right this second—could be radically different.

Heavy thoughts.

A favorite writer of mine starts his day by reading obituaries.

He believes that reading obituaries each morning helps him better appreciate life, focus on the present, and live each moment more fully.

There’s a simple brilliance in that.

Another favorite writer of mine will walk down the streets of New York City, imagining that every person he sees is terminally ill. That they will die in the coming hours.

He says that allows him to behave more kindly, more patiently, more empathetically, more thoughtfully to the hordes of strangers that are otherwise easy to de-humanize as they honk their horns, stand in your way while you’re in a hurry, and make daily life in the city more frustrating and less pleasant than it might otherwise be.

They do this because—one might argue—we are our best selves when we’re mindful of the fragility of this life.

We are not promised tomorrow.

How would we treat our spouses, our extended family, our friends, our children? How would we treat strangers?

If we knew they were going to die?

If we knew we were going to die?

It’s funny to me—not Ha-ha funny—that they are going to die. That I’m going to die.

The conditions are ALREADY in place for me to show up and be my best self to others. In that same way I naturally feel right now upon learning the news of Doc’s passing.

We shouldn’t be sad or morose or uncomfortably morbid all of the time. That doesn’t seem useful.

But we should be mindful. We should always be mindful of what may be.

Our time is precious.

Who deserves our forgiveness? Our patience? Our compassion? Our attention? Our love?

There’s a higher path we can choose to walk. I’m often operating several levels beneath it.

But now—right now—I feel how much I want to be up there.

And even if I—predictably—fail to stay up there as I cycle back into routine and normalcy and acting as if my life and my things are the center of the universe and nothing else is happening out there, it can’t hurt to spend right now reminding myself how laughably untrue that is.

That life is happening in other places and it matters.

That other people are fighting their own battles, and they’re hard, and what can I do to help them fight them?

That no matter what has happened in the past, between any of us and all of the people we know, there’s a farewell coming. One way or another, there’s a Goodbye up ahead.

Maybe we could make it a good one.

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How the New Math vs. Old Math Debate is a Lot Like Your Marriage

math formula for finding true love

(Image/The Kim Komando Show)

Those of you living outside of the United States might not know this, but in 2009 the federal government launched a new initiative to change the way math and science are taught in schools.

It’s called the Common Core State Standards Initiative, and from its inception through today, it has been a highly politicized issue in the U.S. because many people—possibly even MOST—absolutely lost their shit over this.

“Have you seen this new math? What the hell was wrong with old math? Numbers are numbers. Facts are facts. Why do we have to make it more difficult than it needs to be?”

I was one of those people.

I find the methodology of solving 35 x 12 using Common Core standards to be excruciating.

What makes the most sense to my brain when I look at that math problem, is to solve 30 x 12 and 5 x 12, and then add those two answers together to solve for 35 x 12. I can do it in a few seconds in my head. The answer is a subtle pot-smoking joke. Done and done.

But the way it’s taught in school today, is like a dozen extra steps that seems SUPER-tedious and unnecessary when you learned how to solve multiplication problems the way I just did.

Without a doubt, solving 35 x 12 my way is faster, simpler and more efficient than the way they teach it in schools today. Many people agree with that, so we all came to the conclusion that our way is better, and Common Core standards are bullshit.

This is how we form our beliefs and opinions about EVERYTHING. We have our way of doing things, or our favorite things to eat, or watch, or listen to, or wear, or drive, or participate in, or whatever. Taking that a step further, we have our beliefs. These are the stories that make the most sense to us, and much of our behaviors, thought processes and emotional reactions happen as a result of those beliefs.

Just like the person who sees this new, and different, and tedious, and annoying, and frustrating way of solving math problems, and teaching children; a person also sees beliefs, emotional reactions, and behaviors in their relationships that feel equally new, different, tedious, annoying and frustrating.

When we see these new ideas or ways of doing things, that are neither comfortable nor in alignment with what we’ve previously done or believed, we spaz about it and act like it’s wrong.

My easy way of doing math is NOT wrong. It’s obviously superior to this new dumb way of doing math. THUS, my way is better, and everyone who disagrees is a huge moron, and everyone teaching our children in school are a bunch of stupid jerks!

Here’s the Reason Why ‘New Math’ Exists and How it Could Change Your Life

I’m not a mathematician, nor an educator. So I can’t give you the most precise mathematical terms.

But here’s how I understand this, and since learning the REASON for doing this, I have instantly recanted and regretted every ignorant statement I’ve made about this so-called ‘New Math.’

There’s the way most of us learned in school. The way everyone in my approximate age range thinks is the ‘best’ way to solve math problems. Because it’s fast and easy and efficient and less work and STILL correct.

And then there’s this new way. This Common Core standards way.

And the REASON for this new way is simple: Children who learn to solve math problems THE NEW WAY—while requiring more effort and energy right now—will more easily be able to transition to advanced mathematics.

All the shit I can’t do? Advanced calculus and physics? In 25 years or less, a whole bunch of higher education students will have embraced advanced math because it will come more naturally to them, instead of abandoning it as I did early in my college years.

Sure, I can solve 35 x 12 way faster than my grade-schooler’s teacher wants him to, but my son has the opportunity to fundamentally understand advanced math concepts that many Americans currently lack (which is why so many other countries outperform the United States both academically and economically in the fields of math and science).

Educators are doing it the hard way. The long way. The slow way. To infuse a cultural change into the American education system that could one day see American children in greater numbers helping to solve the world’s greatest problems (feeding the growing population, extending battery life of mobile devices and electric vehicles, finding solutions to energy problems to power people’s homes and businesses).

And that’s when it hit me.

I’ve been fighting this ‘new,’ ‘dumb’ way of doing things all of these years because it seemed harder and unnecessary.

But THIS is what it will take to properly educate our future scholars who will be able to advance INFINITELY further into the fields of math and science than I could have ever realistically hoped to given the way math was taught to me.

In isolation, it seems stupid to teach little kids this tedious, harder, more complex way of doing things.

But when viewed through the big picture, so many of these kids will be able to excel in ways us old complainers who think “our way” is the best way never could.

And isn’t that worth it? Isn’t that SMART and sensible and wise? Isn’t that disciplined and—minus the logistics of finding educators who can teach “New Math” effectively—an incredibly intelligent way of addressing a current and future problem? The potential absence of highly educated mathematicians and scientists capable of contributing positively to the world?

And.

Just maybe, our knee-jerk, ignorant, short-sighted reactions to others and discomfort and newness and ‘different’ in our romantic relationships, and in our experiences with other people, works exactly the same.

Just maybe, making the decision to practice doing things in a more tedious, annoying, difficult and time-consuming way won’t feel so good now, but can set us up for a future of taking ourselves and our relationships to places previously believed impossible.

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Maybe Your Love Life Sucks Because You Don’t Know What Love Is

time heart brain love

(Image/Arre)

There’s a guy. He’s having a really bad day because this girl he likes a lot decided to stop seeing him.

She thought they were two people who enjoyed one another’s company.

He thought they were madly in love, boyfriend and girlfriend, and going to get married someday.

Dude’s a nice guy, as the story goes. One of those guys with an inferiority complex about women breaking up with him or rejecting him, because it seems to happen to him a lot.

There are probably some young women out there who want a super-clingy dude with hyper-codependent tendencies who smothers her physically, mentally and emotionally. But near as I can tell, most don’t.

This guy’s default state of being—how he shows up in the world—is THE RECIPE for triggering discomfort and mistrust in a potential romantic partner. You can still be liked. You can still be appreciated. Perhaps even genuinely cared for.

But very few—I’d argue zero—healthy people are going to intentionally commit to being a couple and/or pursue marriage with someone who needs, needs, needs all the time. Someone who leans so heavily on OTHER people to achieve balance or to feel good about themselves.

People Have Load-Bearing Limits

I kind-of know those feelings. Not because I’m overly co-dependent emotionally—I’ve got that only-child thing going for me—but because I do have a distinguished marital history of leaning heavily on my spouse to “take care of stuff.” It’s hard enough for most of us to take excellent care of ourselves under optimum circumstances. When you start adding career responsibilities and children to the equation, any extra bullshit being dumped on you from another adult is going to feel even heavier than the regular kind of bullshit.

Many divorces happen because one spouse is willing to carry that extra bullshit early in the relationship because intense feelings of love are present, and because they have the mental, physical and emotional bandwidth to take that on, BUT then five to 10 years later, when there are children and financial pressures and stale, if not non-existent, sexual routines, and years of tiny resentments piling up, and some major life trauma like the death of a loved one… that person who was carrying so much of the emotional and mental burdens of marriage or the relationship becomes too exhausted to carry it anymore.

It’s a sad story, and one I regret subjecting my ex-wife and son to.

But there’s another element to codependence as well.

And that is the idea that how OTHER people feel about us—whether they think we’re attractive, or want to play with us on the playground, or want to sleep with us, or want to hire us at their company, or want to accept us into their graduate schools, or want to go out on a date with us, or want to be friends with us, etc.—is some kind of legitimate gauge for how we should feel about ourselves.

I spent most of my life hung up on the Majority Rules concept. That when things are subject to vote (whether that be at the ballot box, or which store they shop at, or which food they like, or which movie or music artist is best), that what the Majority says is best is a reliable indicator for what actually is best. (I know. Concepts like subjectivity were totally lost on me.)

Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”

I learned that quote while working as a reporter for my college newspaper. I’ve been (very slowly) inching my way down a new life path ever since.

Without getting political or philosophical, let’s just use pop music as an example.

Can we all agree that at least ONE super-popular song you’ve heard in the past 10-20 years—something that topped the music charts and sold millions of records—was a steaming pile of suck in your opinion?

There you have it.

Only ONE person gets to decide what we’re worth and how we feel every day when we wake up. And that person is ourselves.

If You Don’t Know What Love Actually Is, How Can You Know Whether it’s in Your Life?

Captain Whiny Guy feels like a victim today.

He’s not celebrating the quick end to a relationship that NEVER had a chance of evolving into a healthy love or marriage or family or anything that he claimed he wanted in life.

He’s lamenting that he, once again, feels like a loser in the Pick-Me Dance game, because a girl he liked didn’t like him as much as he liked her.

His sadness and disappointment and feelings of rejection predictably turned to anger.

“I love you,” he told her. (I don’t think he knows what that means. Weeks, not months went by.)

He cited all of the nice things he’s done for her. All of the gifts he’s given. He expressed fake-unselfish concern that he was worried that she would eventually “end up settling for someone who won’t treat you the way you deserve.”

The implication from everything this dude said was: I will be nicer to you, give you more things, and do more stuff for you than anyone else, thus you’re wrong and making a mistake if you don’t choose to commit to me and love me forever.

This guy thinks love is a meritocracy.

This guy thinks who you date and marry is a math equation rooted entirely in behavior.

As if the biggest sack on the planet could simply out-gift and out-favor and out-sweet-gesture every other guy in someone’s life and guarantee himself her approval, sexual connection, and lifetime commitment.

I feel sorry for him. But the truth is, he’s simply going to have to keep getting his nuts kicked in until the lightbulb goes on and he starts asking better questions about how he shows up in the world.

Love Cannot Be Earned, Nor Bought, Nor Taken

Love is a complicated thing to discuss because so many people define it differently.

People commonly associate love with emotions, with feelings—romantic and sexual.

People think of love in conjunction with the loyalty and foundational structure of their family of origin—the love that exists between parents and children and siblings and their pets.

People love things. Like music, art, sports, traveling, literature, cinema, and various activities of personal interest.

Generally, in the context of dating and marriage, use of the word love typically characterizes that feeling. It’s not a sane feeling. It’s not a rational one. It can’t be bottled or boxed up. We can’t trap love, stow it away, and break it out later whenever we want.

Love—the feeling—may not be the biggest factor in whether couples last forever or fizzle out fast, but let’s not pretend that it doesn’t matter. Love is UNQUESTIONABLY the most potent and influential of human emotions, and the one most likely to compel a person to do something big and otherwise unusual—hopefully something insane like moving far away to be with someone, and NOT something insane like murder in some bizarre love triangle, like that crazy astronaut love triangle that involved adult diapers and a long murdery road trip.

Because love is the most potent and influential human emotion, I think it’s important for people to truly KNOW what it is.

Let’s start with the obvious.

You cannot buy it. If you buy people roses, and write them love notes, and take them to dinner, and are super-affectionate and thoughtful, physically and emotionally, there are not units of love that can be earned or given in return.

Love is not measurable. It cannot be counted.

Love is NOT conditional. That is not to say that love won’t dissipate under certain conditions, but simply that love ceases to be love when it’s exchanged only under certain circumstances.

Companionship can be bought. Sex can be bought. Love can’t be.

“Love is inherently free. It cannot be bought, sold, or traded. You cannot make someone love you, nor can you prevent it — not for any amount of money. Love cannot be imprisoned, nor can it be legislated. Love is not a substance, not a commodity, not even a marketable power source. Love has no territory, no borders, no quantifiable mass or energy output,” said Dr. Deborah Anapol in her book The Seven Natural Laws of Love as shared in Psychology Today. “This doesn’t mean that love allows destructive and abusive behaviors to go unchecked. Love speaks out for justice and protests when harm is being done. Love points out the consequences of hurting oneself or others. Love allows room for anger, grief, or pain to be expressed and released. But love does not threaten to withhold itself if it doesn’t get what it wants. Love does not say, directly or indirectly, ‘If you are a bad boy, Mommy won’t love you anymore.’ Love does not say, ‘If you want to be loved, you must be nice,’ or ‘Do what I want,’ or ‘Never love anyone else,’ or ‘Promise you’ll never leave me.’”

I like the way Anapol characterizes it.

Love is inherently unselfish.

Did the whiny guy give the girl What?! Pick Me!!! roses because he loves her? I mean, maybe. I guess. But isn’t it more likely that he sent the girl who rejected him roses because he was hoping for a desired response—one intended ultimately to benefit him?

Wasn’t it a tool to make her change her mind, or at least feel regret about ending it with The Super-Nice Guy Who Sends Her Flowers?

And doesn’t that make him kind of a dickwad—whether it’s intentional and self-aware or not—for saying “I love you”?

Sure, it does.

It wasn’t a selfless act of love. He of course said the cliché thing people think they’re supposed to say I just want what’s best for you! I just want you to be happy!

But he didn’t act like it.

He acted like a petulant whiner with an exceedingly flaccid and unused penis.

And when you act like that, girls tend to find the behavior unattractive. And I hope he figures it out someday, because there is a place in this world for a husband and father who loves to demonstrate his love through gifts and thoughtful acts of kindness.

But I think we have our fill of human beings who don’t actually know what love is.

We don’t love our parents or our children or our brothers and sisters or our best friends because there’s some reward in doing so.

We just love them.

Romantic and sexual love are different.

I think the fabulous philosopher and author Alain de Botton might have said it best in The Book of Life.

“In general, civilisation requires us to present stringently edited versions of ourselves to others. It asks us to be cleaner, purer, more polite versions of who we might otherwise be. The demand comes at quite a high internal cost. Important sides of our character are pushed into the shadows.

Humanity has long been fascinated – and immensely troubled – by the conflict between our noblest ideals and the most urgent and exciting demands of our sexual nature. In the early third century, the Christian scholar and saint, Origen, castrated himself – because he was so horrified by the gulf between the person he wanted to be (controlled, tender and patient) and the kind of person he felt his sexuality made him (obscene, lascivious and rampant). He represents the grotesque extreme of what is in fact a very normal and widespread distress. We may meet people who – unwittingly- reinforce this division,” de Botton wrote. “The person who loves us sexually does something properly redemptive: they stop making a distinction between the different sides of who we are. They can see that we are the same person all the time; that our gentleness or dignity in some situations isn’t fake because of how we are in bed and vice versa. Through sexual love, we have the chance to solve one of the deepest, loneliest problems of human nature: how to be accepted for who we really are.”

Love is a feeling—wild and unpredictable.

But love is something else. Something more pure and absolute.

Love is an action, even if only in our hearts and minds.

Love is freely given, without agenda, because for reasons we have never thought through entirely or been asked to explain, we truly love someone and seek to improve them and their lives completely independent of our own emotions, or how it might impact our own lives.

Love is kind. Patient. Compassionate. Empathetic.

Love is a choice.

You don’t get to take love from someone. You don’t get to convince them they should love you and have it work out. You can’t EARN it.

It’s acquired one way only.

As a gift.

And when we’re blessed enough to receive it, it’s our responsibility to be good stewards of it. To treat it with the care and importance it deserves.

The care and importance that you deserve, when you finally decide to love yourself, because you finally realize that you’re worth it.

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