Commentary

Making Assumptions from Behind the Steering Wheel

Last week, somebody driving by our house called Animal Control on us. They reported that our dog was outside without any water in his water bowl. Animal Control came out to find not only a full water dish but also my family playing with him. Clearly, our adopted dog, who we took with us all the way from Florida, is not neglected.

But someone assumed he was. They couldn’t see a water bowl so assumed it wasn’t there. They didn’t know we work from home and have an open-door policy with our dog, allowing him to come inside or go outside as he pleases (just a bark is all we need), so they assumed he was outside by his lonesome all day.

We often assume the worst about other people in daily life. We don’t have the facts, so we make them up to form a narrative that makes sense to us. And our narratives, like our television and movie plot lines, veer into dark territory. The guy in the car accident was probably drunk. The married coworker without the wedding ring is probably having an affair. And the dog outside in the daytime is probably neglected.

It’s impossible to understand others’ lives — the ones they live 24/7 — by observing for a few moments as we drive on by.

Commentary

A Review of (Insert Film Name Here)

I was going to write about this awful movie I saw this week. I wanted to share how dreadful the lead performance was, to decry its syncopated plotting, to shake my fists at its ham-fisted ending.

But then I decided against it, not because my opinion changed, nor because I think people should watch it.

I decided against panning the film publicly because all of these people — the actors and writers and director — were trying to come together to make something fresh and thoughtful and entertaining. They didn’t play it safe, but went for something unique. It just didn’t work out as they planned.

On social media, we love to criticize others’ efforts because it makes it easier to push down our own creative impulses — to never try. It’s much harder to be generous to the artist(s) and say, “I see what you were going for” — even if it doesn’t get there. And while there’s plenty of room for art criticism, it doesn’t need to come from all corners of the internet. More feedback is just adding another body to the dog pile…and I’d like these artists to be able to get back up, shake themselves off, and try to make something fresh again.

Commentary, Tips for Writers

Writing Is Hard

If given the choice, I’d rather not write. It’s hard, day after day, to come up with something out of nothing. Better to edit — that way, there’s a starting point. You can take something that’s already on paper and make it better or even completely change it. There’s a catch, though: To edit, you have to write something first.

Commentary

The Trouble with Inheritance

There’s a good show on Netflix called The Crown, which I’ve written about on my long-form blog, Serial Monography.

The Crown‘s themes of birthright and hereditary duty cut against the American sensibility of egalitarianism. In the U.S., we like to pretend that every individual has an equal shot at becoming a political leader, getting rich, achieving fame and glory. The only problem is it’s just not true. While there are plenty of rags-to-riches stories to fuel young strivers, the playing field is far from level. People still inherit money and property from their parents, as well as their good name. Or they don’t. In this way, wealth and status gaps get perpetuated.

For all its silliness, it might be better to have a constitutional monarchy as the UK does. The presence of a queen or king would remind everyone that life isn’t fair — some people get higher status because of the lottery of birth — and that we shouldn’t pretend things are egalitarian. But until everyone acknowledges the problem, there’s not much we can do to correct it.

Commentary

My First Passover Dinner

Yesterday, a friend invited me to his family’s Passover dinner tonight. I told him I first participated in a Passover Seder at church as a kid. He was surprised; it didn’t fit with his image of church.

Yet the church I grew up in facilitated a lot of firsts. First attempts at meditation. First real exposure to Native American cultures and reservation life. First time trying Ethiopian food (which I reunited with in Uganda 15 years later). First time traveling to Europe (and no, not to do mission work).

It’s easy to classify churches as unchanging and insular, but they can just as easily be broad-minded and embrace exploration.