Friday, August 30, 2013

Budgeting your life of books

A few years ago, I started an on-line book diary with a few friends. We'd all read whatever it was that we would read, and we'd all make posts about the books. We liked each other and we were all sort of smart in our areas (Levi's an actuary, Chris is a doctoral candidate in literature, I'm an ESL professor and Nathan is a deacon), and we liked reading what each other said.

It became a pissing contest (which I loved) because at the end of the year we'd propose various measurements of who had been the better reader. Chris read twice as many titles as anyone else, sure, but the shit Levi read was so rigorous and spread across so many disciplines, and that had to count for something, right?

Anyways, at some point in this process of running all the numbers, I was struck by a horrible realization. In this busy adult phase of my life, I average 7 books a year. If I live to be 80, I have 350 books left.

I've been doing it wrong. There is no time to fuck around.

What does a man need in life? Why does he read? For me, it's about working on myself psychologically and ethically, and trying to figure out how the world runs for fun and profit.

I must finish Will Durant's Story of Civilization series before I die. I also need to figure out if anarchism works. And I need to figure out how to be happy. And make money.

I also need to figure these things out in a certain order, if I can. I don't want to figure out the secret to happiness when I'm 78.

So I've decided to keep a prioritized list.

I use, but an excel spreadsheet would work just as well.

If I discover a new book that I want to read, I ask myself, "How badly?" I then go through my list and place it where it needs to go.

If I decide that I no longer need to read a book, because I feel like another book answered the questions I had, I take it off of the list.

In the haphazard way that I had been reading, I probably would have always talked about wanting to read the Brothers Karamazov, but never gotten to it.

Now I think I have a chance.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The 8 things I know that it seems like nobody else gets

This is something completely different from my usual posts. I don't do dumb lists. But I was walking a mile with my son today and started thinking about the stuff I want to instill in my kids that most grown men are too stupid to tell them. This is what I came up with:

(1) Things don't happen for a reason


The holocaust wasn't an essential part of a master plan where everything turns out for the best. When you didn't get the job, it wasn't because there's a better one waiting for you. Even if you're religious, the saner people in your religion have probably articulated a theory of evil that acknowledges that sometimes shit happens. Please believe that.

I know a guy who wouldn't go to a job interview one Thursday because he had an invitation to something else, and so "it wasn't meant to be." Nothing is meant to be. Go to the interview.

(2) Everything is a numbers game


If you have a one-in-a-million chance of a model agreeing to go on a date with you, that means you need to ask one million models for a date. The same goes with job applications and running for public office and crazy invention ideas and everything else. Try one thousand things that you have a 0.1% chance of succeeding in, and in the end you will accomplish one incredible thing. Then, if you want, you can forget to talk about the 999 failures, and just let everyone think that you're brilliant.

(3) Civilization is mostly maladaptive

Church, state, school, factory evolved from a slave system that is not your friend. Civilization spread all over the world because it was good at spreading, not because its institutions make us happier. Civilization works by getting you to believe things, and anything someone really really tries to get you to believe is probably false if it doesn't make sense to you.

(4) You have a subconscious


You don't do things for the reasons you think you do. You don't believe the things you think you do. That guy who you hate because, I don't know, he just looks, like, such a douche? You may be jealous of him. Or maybe you want his body. You don't know that these are the reasons, of course. That's why they call it the sub-conscious. Your friends though? It's probably pretty easy for all of them to see that you're really jealous. And gay.

(5) You should walk humbly before the chemicals


When you hate someone you should take a quick inventory of how much sleep you're running on, whether you've eaten, if you need a cigarette, and when the last time you had sex was.

If you're good to go on all of these, then you probably really do hate them for other reasons, like the ones listed in point #4.

(6) Good writing is acting like the language got started yesterday


Don't say "blood curdling screams." You've never even pictured blood curdling. Don't say "abject poverty." You don't even know what abject means. You just know it's the word that people put before the word poverty.

Make up your own descriptors, because no one else is going to picture blood curdle either, and no one else knows what abject means.

Eryn doesn't "melt my heart."

But when Eryn first took her glasses off and I got a good look at her green eyes, it did make that hot sharp thing happen in my chest like I had narrowly missed driving head-on into a bus.

(7) Anger is useless at least most of the time


If someone disagrees with you and you yell at them, what's your game plan? Are you going to scare them into believing what you do? Ok, what if your girl is looking at another man? You get angry and he's not attractive anymore?

Seneca thought that no one ever needed to be angry. He thought that we could learn to kill the emotion completely and lose nothing. I believe that.

Seneca did allow, though, for pretending to be angry sometimes. People who grew up with mean parents sometimes won't think you're serious unless you do.

(8) Feeling guilty is useless


Cats don't feel guilty. Cows don't. Dogs kind of do, because we train them. Guilt is an emotional complex, and not a cardinal emotion. It's some form of PTSD, some kind of Pavlovian, internalized fear of the whip.

You don't need it. Even if you've ruined everybody's lives, feeling guilty will fix nothing. If you have the facts you need and you want to do the right thing, that's all you need.