Commentary

Things You Shouldn’t Be Stingy With

One of these days, I’ll run out of something to say. That’s how the thinking goes, right? Yet the days I actually have the least to say are during those stretches when I haven’t been saying much. It’s much easier to write something if I’ve got a string of days behind me in which I’ve written other things. Thought begets thought. Writing begets more writing.

It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around concepts in which the objects aren’t finite and countable; we treat everything as though it runs out, from words and thoughts to love and compassion. That may be because we confuse giving with taking, logically inferring that they are opposite parts in some zero-sum game: If you give 1,000 words today, you’re taking 1,000 words from your future writing.

But ask any parent whether giving love to their first child meant they couldn’t love their second as much, and they’ll tell you that’s not how it works. (Attention and energy, yes; love, no.) You only learn how to love more.

Taking depletes. Giving rejuvenates. So don’t be so stingy. There’s more where that came from.

Commentary

Bricks to Buckets

Perimeter shooters in basketball rarely pass up an open shot. They have two reasons for this. The first is that when they’re not making much, they have to work themselves into a groove … at which point they encounter the second reason for continuing to shoot: They’re making everything.

Writers are the same. We rarely have our best stuff, and the only way to get to our best stuff is by continuing to throw some of our bad stuff up there. (Apologies to readers of early drafts.) Unlike two-guards and wingmen, however, we writers can edit our work. Airballs can be erased from the scoresheet, and bricks can become buckets.

Luckily, this general principle applies to most things. We’re bad at things until we’re good — and few of us are good at anything from the outset.

Commentary

Being Goofy at Disney

Disneyland is one of the few places on earth where you can wear whatever you like. There, you’ll see a large-biceped bodybuilder sporting a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and standing comfortably next to a glamour model with sequined Minnie ears. The sprawling assemblage of teenagers posing together in matching orange shirts emblazoned with the words Johnson Family Vacation. The 20-something collegian wearing a fanny pack to hold her tickets and water. These people are dorks — for a day, at least. And no one at Disneyland cares.

As much as I haven’t understood why full-grown adults squeal at the thought of meeting Cinderella (or, rather, the person dressed as Cinderella) or registered the thrill in collecting all the collectibles, I appreciate that Disneyland is a place where adults…don’t have to be.

Our culture emphasizes growing up, whether we’re ready to or not. Yet we bask in escapist entertainment, from video games and movies to alcohol. Our free time allows us to roleplay, to imagine, to take on buried personalities. Disneyland takes it a step further. It allows us to imagine a world where we don’t have to mask our inner selves at all — the selves that are just kids who really just want to spin around on the teacups in a Pluto t-shirt.

Commentary

The Memory of Dreams

Memory, scientific research tells us, is not necessarily fact. Researchers have shown how it is possible to implant false memories in subjects. For this reason, eyewitness testimony is not always so reliable. The “tall man with dark hair” may have, in fact, been a 5’6″ blondie.

Yet, if I’m being presumptuous, I’d wager that most of us have trouble seeing how our memories could fail us. They are like video cameras, recording the truth and keeping it there, at least for a while. Sure, the picture gets fuzzy over time, and some events get erased over, but it’s not like our minds would create scenes and details that were never there.

Except, our minds do. And if you need a reminder of this, look to dreams.

I recently had a dream in which someone asked me when I had lived in Ireland. “1998,” I told her. (It was 2002.) She asked where I had lived, and I provided a description of a location that does not exist in a town that does not exist. (I lived on the outskirts of Galway.) Every step of the way, I believed with absolute certainty that what I was saying was correct. Only upon waking did I realize that the dream details were incorrect.

I think a lot of people have had that experience but take comfort that when they awake their minds are able to differentiate between true and false memories, as I did when I awoke. Yet that’s a false sense of security. After all, the central player in the creation of both types of memory is the brain. It’s hard to say, “I trust the brain when I’m awake but not when I’m asleep.” Certainly, some of the same mechanisms are at play during both times.

I’m not asking you to rethink the nature of reality à la Kant or even à la Total Recall. But I would suggest that our memories, which form the basis for our decisions and judgments, are fallible. Even yours. That was what your crazy dream was about.

Lexicon

Passion Is Overrated

Many of us spend our entire lives trying to identify what we’re passionate about. When we can’t find it, we get frustrated. We’re supposed to have something that drives us, yet we don’t. We go through the motions instead of being driven by what enthralls us.

Here, I think, we’ve set the bar too high. Passion is overrated. More precisely, it might be the wrong word. Interest is better. Everyone has something they’re interested in. Paul Goldschmidt’s batting average, Starbucks collectible mugs, composting. But when pushed to label these interests as “passions,” we may very well balk. “I’m interested in Balinese doors, but I’m not passionate about them.” As if passion is reserved for something stronger or even for plain weirdos.

All interests can be divided into two types: the things you eventually get tired of and the things you don’t. But don’t you think that never tiring of, say, basketball is a bit suspect? As a kid, I really liked this movie The Pistol, a probably horrible movie about basketball legend Pete Maravich’s youth. In it, the budding Pistol Pete sleeps with a basketball and dribbles it everywhere he goes. He is dedicated to becoming the best possible player.

I liked basketball. I wanted to be a better player. So, I tried sleeping with a basketball. I made it through one night. I just didn’t have his passion.

And that’s probably okay. Because during the time I haven’t been dribbling from place to place, I’ve been learning about and doing other things. I read. I write. I play soccer. I have conversations. I do the things I’m interested in rather than the only thing I’m passionate about. I’m okay with that. But ask me again at 70 when I’ve developed a passion for painting over Taiwanese soup containers.