Category: Culture

In favor of non-holidays

| December 1, 2014 | Reply

I had a wonderful visit with a friend yesterday. She and I have been friends ever since we attended law school together in the late 1970’s. We had an engaging conversation in her living room. I couldn’t imagine a more enjoyable visit. We traded numerous stories and observations, sharing more than a few laughs. As I was traveling back home, it occurred to me that we accomplished this without any of the following:

Handing each other gifts;
Dressing up in fancy clothing;
Blinking lights, ornaments or decorations;
A television turned on;
Singing or listening to ritualistic songs;
Eating special food or drinks;
Making unsupportable claims about events that happened 2,000 years ago.

Instead, we celebrated a friendship and took an active interest in each other’s lives. This is an activity that can be enjoyed simultaneously by small or larger groups of good-hearted thoughtful people. In fact, some of my favorite moments this year have involved

Recently, another friend of mine mentioned that her favorite holiday is Thanksgiving because it is the holiday most devoid of commercialism and religiosity and jingoism. I mostly agree, but even Thanksgiving has been clouded with commercialism, obsessions with spectator sports, and the perceived need to display ourselves through decorations, special clothing and special food. To be fair, I do enjoy the spread of food one encounters at Thanksgiving, but it is a secondary consideration to the occasion. What would be more meaningful as a Thanksgiving celebration: A big feast without anyone to share it with, or a room full of special people without special food?

I would like to nominate Non-Holiday Spontaneous Visiting as my favorite “holiday,” because it is this “holiday” that gets even closest to the core of the most important part of what makes us humans at our best.

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On Being Primed For Worse

| November 25, 2014 | 1 Reply
On Being Primed For Worse

Haven’t we been gearing up for some kind of O.K. Corral showdown pretty much since the announcement that there would be a grand jury? Haven’t we been gearing up for some kind of O.K. Corral showdown pretty much since the announcement that there would be a grand jury? Sure looked like we expected what we got. [More . . . ]

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Eulogy by the Deceased

| November 18, 2014 | Reply

Eulogies are best when given by the (not-quite-yet) deceased.

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Mormon Church start to come clean with truth about Joseph Smith’s many wives

| November 11, 2014 | 1 Reply

It’s a good first step, as presented in the NYT:

Mormon leaders have acknowledged for the first time that the church’s founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, portrayed in church materials as a loyal partner to his loving spouse Emma, took as many as 40 wives, some already married and one only 14 years old.

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Tony Robbins discusses tuning in and being productive

| October 22, 2014 | 1 Reply

A friend recently told me about Tony Robbins. I had heard the name but didn’t appreciate who he actually was. This extended interview of Robbins by another productivity guru, Tim Ferriss, is well worth your time. I’m only half-way through and much of what Robbins says is resonating with me.

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How to be productive rather than busy

| October 22, 2014 | 2 Replies

Eric Barker offers some excellent advice on how to stop being busy. I’m really appreciating and implementing many of the ideas he so succinctly presents. This article urges that you stop being busy and start being productive. Here’s the nutshell:

Just because the other people at the office are overscheduled and the other parents are doing 1000 things doesn’t mean you need to.

We all only have 1440 minutes a day. Accept you can’t do it all, focus on what’s important and do that well.

We’re all jealous of the people who are calm and cool under pressure. Be that person.

Next time someone asks how you’re doing, don’t talk about how busy you are. Don’t get sucked into thinking busy means important.

Busy doesn’t make you important. Doing the important things you need to do makes you important.

I could spend hours reading Barker’s summaries of his science-based self-improvement advice, which seems counter-productive.  But I’m going to work hard to implement many of these suggestions–many of them ring true.

Related excellent article by Eric Barker: 6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day Here’s the intro:

People work an average of 45 hours a week; they consider about 17 of those hours to be unproductive (U.S.: 45 hours a week; 16 hours are considered unproductive).

Lots of good advice on how not to fritter away one’s time.

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About excellent and troubled romances and marriages

| October 21, 2014 | Reply

I’ve really enjoyed receiving posts by Eric Barker. Recently, I received this post on How to Have a Great Relationship. He really boils things down, peppering his posts with links to the research and more expansive articles. Here’s an excerpt:

Love isn’t an emotion, really. When you look at fMRI studies of the brain it shows up more as a desire. A craving.
And that explains why it feels so good. As far as the ol’ gray matter’s concerned love’s right up there with cocaine and cash.
All three activate the same area of the brain — the dopamine reward system . . . So, yeah, even neuroscience agrees that love is intense. But can anything that powerful last? Doesn’t it eventually have to fizzle? Not necessarily. Research shows some couples are very much in love 40-50 years later. Want your marriage to last more than 30 years? Just “being married” often isn’t enough: you also need to be good friends.

But this is only the entry point to dozens of clearly written text loaded with links. Really smartly outlined and inviting. I find myself looking through many of the links, including this way to shortcut to romance.

Here are a few more links that spun off the main article:

John Gottman’s four things that kill relationships.

Criticism – Complaints are fine. Criticism is more global — it attacks the person, not their behavior. They didn’t take out the garbage because they forgot, but because they’re a bad person.
Contempt – “…name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. In whatever form, contempt – the worst of the four horsemen – is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her.”
Defensiveness – “…defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying, in effect, ‘The problem isn’t me, it’s you.’ Defensiveness just escalates the conflict, which is why it’s so deadly.”
Stonewalling – Tuning out. Disengaging. This doesn’t just remove the person from the conflict, it ends up removing them, emotionally, from the relationship.

Here’s a gem from the same article:

69% of a couple’s problems are perpetual. These problems don’t go away yet many couples keep arguing about them year after year:

Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind – but it can’t be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage.

What is one of the best predictors of the well being of a relationship? It’s how much you THINK you are similar.

What’s the best time efficient way to enhance your relationship?  Share your favorite part of the day with each other.

I realize that none of this is rocket science in the abstract.  As a man who recently became divorced, however, it’s not easy to put these into play every day.  Keeping these ideas in the forefront would seem to be a good way to making it easier to put these ideas into play.

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Early Racism

| October 21, 2014 | Reply
Early Racism

They were marched into the classroom, single file, and lined up along the blackboard to face the roomful of white faces. It would be sheerest invention to say I remember everything about that day. The only things I recall had to do with questions about how my own situation was about to change.

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Poem: The Joyride of Becoming

| October 7, 2014 | 2 Replies

I rarely write poetry, but I’m finding myself in new territory these days (divorce, new home and several other related changes), feeling some angst when it would seem that I mostly have cause to celebrate new perspectives and opportunities.  I’ve often joked that I experience this sort of distressed happiness because of my gypsy roots.  Friends tell me that this is the plight of control freaks and that I need to loosen up. This is my response to them.

I’ve long been fascinated with the writings of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. I made his theory of the flux the focus of my poem.

The Joyride of Becoming
Erich Vieth (2014)

Heraclitus wasn’t fooled when people talked about
“permanent” things.
All is flux, he proclaimed.
“You cannot step into the same river twice.”

Now that Life has hurled me out of my self-conjured comfort,
Every moment whispers that Heraclitus is correct;
the world is permeated with universal acid.
This is not a philosopher’s word game.
I feel it in my ever-morphing bones.

Everything.
Every thing is
a nonstop dance of destruction and creation.
Every cloud, creature and canyon a ghostly multiverse,
a sprawling swirling that runs through our feeble stop signs,
ignoring these empty-shell words we try to use as hooks
to stabilize our vivid imaginings.
Even my steadfast dog threatens to become an ontological metaphor.

The SuperFlux gives rise to joys that will inevitably threaten
and dangers that will someday delight–
A roiling process that moves in and on in a thousand ways
On both sides of our skins and skulls,
whether we are ready or not.
Failure to heed this fact that all nouns are verbs
tempts us to walk
with undue swagger
and blurt out false promises.

Yes, some things change less noticeably, mostly
things that don’t cry,
though all things eventually crack, crumble
and re-assimilate.

It is our friends, lovers
and central truths that are
the fastest fire and water:
Even though they look the same from day to day, they are
self-extinguishing works in progress
that we struggle to know
only through sparks and splatters.
Trying to possess them is to try to embrace
dancing flames and swift whirlpools.

Act, we must. Judge, we must,
or we would quickly die.
We are told that to live well
we must know well,
though we are irretrievably smeared
across all that is.
Even that magic three-pound organ in our head
cannot wrap itself around the impossibility of this daily task.
Taking this plight seriously risks
sanity.
If only I could better convince myself
to go with the flow.

As we pause to drink water molecules previously drunk
by Jesus, Cleopatra and Heraclitus, we become
Fatigued.
We summon up courage as a substitute for knowledge
and we have faith that all Motion is Progress,
whistling while rearranging our decaying deck chairs,
convincing ourselves
over and over
that it is the Blobs in this lava lamp that are stably
meaningful,
rather than the process.

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