We’re Not Slave Drivers, You Know!

Not slave drivers
Man! Can’t a kid get a break? Not slave drivers?

When I was about twelve, my parents wanted a pool. A real one. Concrete with a washed-gravel surround and a diving board. We lived in sunny Tacoma, Washington, where we reveled in four days of summer each year but this didn’t phase these sun worshipers. No. We would carve out a slice of Palm Springs North and bask in whatever heat the stingy sun would impart to its disciples.

This was long before the days of credit cards and home equity loans. Dad was a teacher so funds were thin but we had the nicest lawn in the county. And mom kept the roses perfectly. So we started a yard care business. It was a good match. Dad bought a truck – a metallic green Chevy – and tossed a mower and tools in the back, and took out a classified ad. He was immediately swamped and I was expected to traipse along on weekends and during the Summer to help out.

On most days, I loved it. We left early with fat lunches that Mom packed the night before. We might stop for a shake and sat together on the tailgate, swinging our legs. Dad paid me four bits an hour. I had no clue what to do with this kind of wealth. In the summer, this was up to twenty bucks a week. I was rich and got to spend all day with my Dad. Life was pretty good.

One day, I didn’t want to go. I was thinking about just how good all my friends had it. While I worked, bleeding and sweating my way to wealth, everyone else played baseball at Hatley’s or rode bikes to the Safeway to swipe a candy bar. I was a kid. I wanted a little bit of summer. It seemed pretty normal to me. So, one morning, I said “No.” It was weird. I expected the seas to part. I absolutely expected lots of yelling. At the very least, I expected to be dragged to the truck by my ear. But Mom and Dad just looked at each other. They probably winked. “Fine,” they said. “Stay home if you like. Sheesh. We’re not slave drivers you know.” Dad went to the phone and called one of my friends to help for the day. That was it and everyone was happy.

Not slave drivers
It looks so tiny now. Mom at the pool.

Dad left and I got dressed. Mom got me breakfast and I was feeling good about my place in the world. I yelled to Mom that I was going to Doug’s and started to head for the door. Before I had even reached for the door knob, the world hiccuped. My Mother’s head spun a full one-eighty while she kept washing dishes. “Oh no you’re not.You’re not going anywhere.” That part about not being slave drivers? Out the window.

“But…I don’t have to go to work. I wanted to play.”

“You don’t have to go to work but you are not going to play. You are darn well going to work around here all day. You’ll get the same breaks you get with your Dad and I’ll make your lunch. You can start with weeding the back rhodies and we’ll keep going until your Dad gets back.”

It was genius. I worked all day without the breaks I usually got driving from yard to yard. There were no milkshakes. No cooling off in the shade for a minute. And Mom? Until she died, there were no two men on the planet who could keep up with her. She defined taskmaster. I weeded. I swept the garage and the drive. I cleaned my room. I vacuumed. I worked right up to break time and lunch and kept at it until Dad drove up the driveway with the truck. Mom made sure that I was in the front when Dad drove up, too. He hopped out of the truck and made a big show of pulling out a crisp five and handed it to my friend. With money in his pocket, my buddy waved as he ran home, yelling over his shoulder that Dad could call him anytime.

He never needed to again. I learned my lesson. I never skipped a day again. And we got our pool. Which I enjoyed on my days off.

Not slave drivers
Work is done. Stealing a few minutes in the pool.

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Change Your Mind, Change Your Life?

Change Your Mind?

I’ve wondered lately (here and here) about why people live with broken things. What do you have laying around? Broken appliances? A toaster with only one working slot? Clothes that don’t fit? A cabinet drawer that doesn’t slide? Why don’t we take the time to fix these things? What would it take for us to change our mind and quit living with broken stuff? This led me to wonder about broken relationships: is there a correlation between your overflowing junk drawer and the health of your marriage? If you put up with a broken heater in your car are you more prone to put up with something less in your relationships? I’m don’t know. But it’s worth the thought.

The other side of that coin is that we can change our minds about these things. But can we?

I’ve been having a conversation with a so-called intelligent design adherent and author. We’re talking about new research regarding bacteria that grow new flagella over a weekend after having the protein that regulates flagellum construction knocked out.

Facts Don’t Seem To Matter

The research is interesting – I argue that it’s a prime example of a mutation adding something positive to a genome – but I’m fascinated at how both of us present the same information and ‘arrive’ at different conclusions. I emphasize ‘arrive’ because I wonder if either of us is truly looking hard at the evidence? Maybe we are just regurgitating our biases. He would have to argue against his own book to agree with me. I would have to shuffle off my standard evo-devo arguments to agree with him. I don’t like thinking that I do this but how many times have you ever really listened to someone and weighed what they were saying and then changed your minds to agree with them? I’m in that same boat.

In this case, I’ve tried to stop and observe my reasoning. I’ve written down each step in the research finding and asked if this is reasonable. I think it is. In the end, I state that this shows how mutations can add information to the genome and increase fitness. My chatting partner looks at the same list and concludes that this can only be accomplished by a designer. Someone or something had to make this work this way. There is no way that this could happen without an intelligence behind it. When this kind of teleological glove is thrown down there is just no more room for discussion.

I’m not talking about decision making. This is easy. I’m talking about beliefs. I’m talking about the set of rules that you’ve glommed onto or slapped together that dictate your world view and how you live. We tell ourselves that we have examined the evidence and have come to a thoughtful position but that’s very rarely true. Instead, we get our ideas about right and wrong and truth from our genes, from our parents, our school, our culture, from the books we read, and from friends.

What About Beliefs?

The hardest thing I’ve changed my mind about was my Christianity. I was once an engaged Christian but now label myself as deeply agnostic.

And I’m not talking about the ‘I’m not religious, just spiritual’ canard. I live mostly as an atheist but argue hard that neither the theist nor the atheist can truly hammer down their argument to a firm conclusion. Religion seems increasingly untenable to me and, at least for me, the observation that no god exists seems most basic, natural, and fundamental.

There are other things that I almost forbid myself to think about. Abortion is one. My practical and reasonable mind tells me that abortion should be supported, and oftentimes, encouraged. But my doubts about any afterlife creates a loathing in me at the thought of taking life from anyone. I am strongly against capital punishment and feel queasy about abortion as taking away something too precious. I don’t want to be the arbiter of what life we value over another. I recognize my own inconsistency here. I eat meat and have dispatched plenty of research animals. If I’m wrong, and god is a rat, then I am in some serious trouble. I don’t hunt but have no real argument with it other than just killing for fun. So there are areas where I know I’m not consistent.

How about you? What have you changed your mind about?

Cheers!


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Broken Relationships?

This week I wondered why we live with broken things and, then, why we live with things that don’t work the way they are intended to. Those are easy fixes if we’re talking about pencils or cabinet doors or cars. But what about important things? What to do when you begin to think that your faith doesn’t work? What does it even mean to have a relationship that doesn’t work the way it’s intended? I’m not sure but know that many people walk around feeling that something is amiss with their friends, family, or loved ones. Maybe it’s you? Maybe you have expectations that are unrealistic? Maybe you are mean? Maybe you aren’t ready to be in a relationship?

These are weeds that you must traipse through yourself. Others can help but be aware that your good intentioned friend might have nary a clue about what they are talking about. That goes for me, too. You have to figure this one out for yourself.

Here are a few thoughts to help:

Forgive much. And don’t confuse forgiveness with acceptance or forgetting. When we forgive we loose another person’s control over us. But it doesn’t mean that we have to trust that person or like what they have done.

Be careful with your self-talk. We invent much of our reality with the on-going story that we tell ourselves over and over in our minds. If your focus is on the negative then you should expect more negative. If you look for more of the positive your outlook will improve. There is no magic here. A sage said “You find what you are looking for” and it’s rarely more true with relationships.

I’m bad at this. Learn to listen. Learn to close the yapper until the other person is done talking. Learn to not think about how you will respond to them until they are done talking. Then take a minute to think before you talk.

We probably can’t hear it enough. Trying to change another person is almost always a fool’s errand.

Work on yourself. When you are secure and settled you might not need people around you to change and you can start enjoying them for who they are.

Cheers!


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Panic and Decision Making

Panic and Decision Making

We had a nasty life lesson at our home recently. The girls and I went outside to the garage and noticed a female cardinal sitting on a shelf. We’ve been feeding a stray cat and my guess is that the bird saw free vittles on the ground and swooped in for a bite. Something spooked her and she bolted inside the garage. Once there, her instinct to fly up and away worked against her and she was stuck. Every time she fluttered to make an escape, she ended up on the ceiling. We tried to be quiet but it didn’t help: she started flying like a crazed pinball until she went headlong straight into a beam that drops down in the middle of the room. In a sputtering of feathers, she fell to the floor with a broken neck. We rushed to her rescue to no avail. She was alive for seconds and expired in my hands. We buried her and hoped that she had many chicks to carry on her life.

One of the girls asked why she just didn’t fly right out? The door is right there and takes up a whole wall? But the cardinal couldn’t see it. She’s not made to see her way out of a box or a door. Her entire evolutionary past was forged in open fields where up-and-away solves almost every problem. So she panicked. And who of us makes good decisions when we panic? It’s why we think about things beforehand. It’s why businesses run drills. It’s why you talk to your kids about what to do in case of a fire. It’s why we write wills.

So stop. Take a deep breath or three. There might be hell to pay with whatever decision you make but things will get better. Make your decision. Then move on.


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Birthday Wishes. Live life. Cheat Death.

Birthday Wishes

That momentous day has recently passed for me. In honor of the day, here are two of my favorite quotes about adding years to your life. They apply whether you are turning seven, seventeen, or seventy. Enjoy!

Birthday wishes to me.

The first is from Anne Lamont:

“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65 or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written, or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools or oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy, or you were so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen to you.”

Another, much more sobering, from thinker Ray Kurzweil:

The things we can do with life – have relationships, be creative, create knowledge – are what give life meaning. We don’t need death to give time a purpose. We rationalize this great tragedy and convince ourselves that death is a blessing, but it’s a tragedy. It’s a profound loss of knowledge and skill and humanity and relationships.  It’s a loss of the things that give life significance.

Happy Birthday!


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Why Live With Things That Don’t Work?

Why do we live with things that don’t work?

I’ve written previously about living with broken things. Let’s extend that: why do we live with things that don’t work as intended?

Have you bought pencils lately? Sharpened them in one of those cheap plastic sharpeners you can buy at the stationer’s (that’s old-talk for the office supply store) for a buck or so? Have you invented swear words when your pencil ends up looking like the one in the photo above? I’ve probably spent twenty bucks on that plastic junk and crappy pencils. I finally bought a metal sharpener with replaceable blades. It cost ten times as much as a plastic job but it worked like a charm until the girls ran crayons through it. Now I just need to replace the cutters. And I expect it will work pretty much forever.

So why did I put up for so long with sharpeners that didn’t work and stole a sliver of happiness from me each time they broke a pencil lead? I don’t know. It was convenient? I misunderstood the true cost of using junk?  Now I have a sharpener that I won’t have to replace that always makes me smile a bit when I see a crisp sharp pencil point.

How many things does this apply to in your home? In your life? What have you patched up, hoping it will work one more time? The lawn mower? The bedroom door? Are the lights still out in the hallway? Why do we keep living with junk that frustrates us when a fix is so easy?


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Why Live With Broken Things?

Do you live with broken things?

Here’s something I’ve started to do with great benefits: when something breaks, I throw it away.

Shocking! It’s a revelation! And it hurts my heart a little bit.

But why would anyone keep broken stuff around? I don’t know but I have drawers of broken pens that no longer write. I have clothes in the closet that no longer fit, and I have tools in boxes that I might want to fix one day. I have an entire broken car sitting out by the street. Each item takes up space and time. And maybe a little life?

Here’s what happened: I reached for a pen to do some writing. I scribble three words and ran out of ink. I swear and wonder what happened. Instinctively, at least for me, I put the pen back in the drawer and start searching for a pen that writes. There are ten pens there but none work. What in the world was I going to do with them? Buy new cartridges? Hope the ink thins and starts to flow? Miraculously fill? If these are Mont Blancs and are repairable and expensive I can see some sense in this but these are all junk pens.

I wonder what it does to us, this living with broken stuff?


For more on this, see my post on Konmari, or The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.


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