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The Arts

By 'Bitchen' Ric

Like you care. . .

How I Survive Life

Advice, philosophy, axioms, adages, tid-bits, aphorisms, proverbs, maxims, apothegms--I've got them all. And I've said them all to myself and others for many years. The few who actually listened and cared generally found them useful. Maybe you'll think I'm screwed, if so let me know.
        I've always wanted to write these down and share them with the world. Before the advent of the web, there was no forum or means for doing so. I mean, let's face it, it's nearly impossible for the average guy to get published, even if he writes good stuff. And I'm not sure I'd classify the following as classic literature; but since you're here, you may as well read it.
        Heck, I've got advice on coping with stress, dealing with lack of sleep, and making decisions. Maybe someday I'll add more. Or not. Maybe I'll get wiser as I get older. Or not.



The only thing you have to do is die.
. . . everything else is optional.
        In reading over this, I realize that this is actually something said to me by an old college buddy, W. Matthias Raftree. Matt and I were both in the engineering program (neither of us lasted) and hanging out near the grand piano in the student union. I was whining about all the crap I had to get done for school. He stopped playing the piano, took a drag on a cigarette, flicked his ash and turned to look at me. Exhaling smoke through his grin-bared teeth, Matt pointed at me and said "the only thing you have to do is die," and turned back to play the piano.
        Many, like I did, confuse this with the maxim "the only sure things are death and taxes." Taxes are still an option. (As is incarceration for tax evasion, but it's still an option.)
        This, while largely impractical in application, is a very liberating state of mind. If you, like me, are one who gets stressed out by a lot of "I have to do this, then I have to do that, and when that's done...", then think of this philosophy. When I have too many things on my list that I have to do, I just tell myself "the only thing I have to do is die." Everything else becomes simply an option.
        But we're not done.
        Now it's time to prioritize by benefit of doing and consequence of not doing each thing. Put the things of highest benefit or consequence at the top and when you run out of time, you run out of time. This philosophy allows you the liberty of not doing some things that you felt you had to do.
        Matt apparently decided that he didn't have to finish college. I saw him years later tending bar at the most popular pub in Fort Wayne, Indiana (O'Sullivan's if you're ever there), and asked him what happened to school. He told me he made a ton of money tending bar, and that was the only reason he ever went to school. He understood that school was an option that (for him) held little benefit or consequence. To this day, he's one of the most laid-back people I've ever met. [I chatted with Matt the other day. He's now the corporate trainer of bartenders for The Cheescake Factory, a high-class restaurant chain, and doing quite well. - ric 6/27/01]

"The things we can do something about we can and the things that we can't we don't"
        A quote from
Found Money, a 1983 made-for-TV movie with Sid Caesar (as Sam Green) and Dick Van Dyke (as Max Sheppard).
        I don't recall exactly what the movie was about, (the IMdB says: "Max and Sam, disillusioned with people's day-to-day callousness toward each other, and angered by a pension-stealing bank, invent The Invisible Friend, Inc.") but the phrase-- "The things we can do something about we can and the things that we can't we don't"-- was something Sam kept telling Max until Max discovered that there was unallocated bank funds floating around in EFT somewhere and decided to play God. And in doing so Max discovered that the things which we think we can't do anything about are sometimes controllable.
        This has little to do with why I like this quote. I use it in the Sam sense. It aptly describes the two types of things we can worry about. Many people in my family are worriers. I think it might be genetic. I'm glad I saw this movie when I was seventeen and was able to apply this aphorism throughout college, career, church, children and connubial relations.
        A few anecdotal examples of folks worrying about thing they have no control over: My mother-in-law is worried our plane will go down flying to Disneyworld over Christmas. My grandmother worries that we'll get in a wreck if we have to drive to her house. Just chill people.
        BOTTOM LINE: Don't worry about things over which you have absolutely no control. You have enough things to worry about that you can control.

There is always a length of time after which this current trial will be over.
        This is especially applicable to final exams, but generally a good thing to think about when your fretting about your current bad lot. Let me give an example: "In 75 minutes this exam will be over. I will have either passed or failed, but it'll be done."
        This has brought me back from the brink of tears many times. The key here is PERSPECTIVE. Whether it's a surprisingly nauseating thrill ride or the funeral of a parent, this little axiom will help you take two giant steps (Mother, may I?) back and realize that there's a time line for everything, and that time--generally--heals the wounds that are currently being inflicted.



It's astounding the difference twenty minutes can make.
        If you're tired, take a twenty minute nap. Really.
        Some folks call this a "power nap" others a "cat nap," but whatever you call it, it works for a lot of people. (Well, no guarantees.) It works well for me. And my brother Russ, who told me about it and explained approximately what I'm about to tell you.
        The theory is this: Initial REM sleep occurs just after you fall asleep, with other REM periods throughout the night. (If you don't know about REM sleep, drop by
HotBot and search for "REM sleep"). If you think of sleep as a wave, you dip down into REM in the first twenty minutes and crest again before dropping into deep (non-REM) sleep. It is only during REM sleep that you dream.
        If it works properly, your experience (if it's like mine) will be like this:

  • You'll lay there thinking "I'll never fall asleep in twenty minutes" for about ten or fifteen minutes. That's okay, you're in the process of falling asleep.

  • Unbeknownst to you, you will drop into REM sleep for the last seven to ten minutes of the nap. You will dream wildly. Your dreams will seem like a continuation of what you were thinking when you dropped off.

  • When you wake up (set an alarm) you'll feel like you've been asleep for, like, three hours. This is because time gets distorted while you sleep. It goes faster during REM and slower during deep sleep.

  • You'll be remarkably rested. Why? I'm not sure. Something to do with your body's REM requirements.

        After a few times, you may not need an alarm. I usually set one and wake up seventeen to nineteen minutes into the nap. When you crest, your brain decides whether to awaken or dive into deeper sleep. If you tell yourself that you need to get back up, maybe your brain will decide to wake up. Or not. Depends on the person.
        For the science, do a HotBot search for "REM sleep" and "circadian rhythms." I once read a article that said some college had found that you could survive indefinitely on two evenly-spaced two-hour naps a day. Go figure.
        One caveat, though: get good, long sleep! This nap thing only works about once between nightly slumbers. Taking two power naps has diminishing returns and could make you more tired. There is no substitute for proper nightly sleep. If you can't sleep, see a sleep therapist. They watch you (try to) sleep,and tell you why you can't. It's not black magic, they really understand how sleep works.



"There is safety in a multitude of council."
        I know, I know, it's paraphrased from the Bible. Proverbs 11:14 to be exact. "Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellers there is safety." So sue me.
        It means simply this: get a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth. Until you discover what you believe to be the truth, the best advice, reality, or whatever it is you seek.
        Everyone's mother (in the US, at least) used to say "If everyone jumped off the Empire State building, would you?" in response to a claim of "everybody else is doing it." Let me say this about that: maybe there's a reason. Look into it. Ask around. Find the truth.
        Sure maybe everybody's having sex in high school. That, in and of itself doesn't make it good or bad. This is not the same as a "multitude of council." Ask about a dozen older people (especially married ones) whether having sex in high school is a good thing. Then you can discern reality.
        Ask a bunch of people, regardless of demographics, and get a consensus. Then toss it out and decide from what everyone told you how you feel. You're not a politician. Don't let the concensus decide, but use the concensus to guide your own decision. There's a difference.


"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
        This, of course, is from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance."
        Let me start out by saying that I don't embrace or endorse tracendentalism or even this particular essay in toto. I am a firm believer in a Supreme Soul and His Spiritual influences in my life. But that doesn't detract from the truth of the quote:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

        Note that this doesn't say "a consistency is..." it says "a foolish consistency is..." consistency in some things is not foolish. Consistently stopping at red lights, for instance, is not foolish.
        So what's a "foolish" consistency? Decorum, ceremony, protocol--there are lots of words for it. If it's consistent out of vanity, it's foolish. If it's consistent soley from tradition, it's probably foolish. Keep in mind that it may be foolish to stand on ceremony if it could cost you your life or job or family. If a woman doesn't cover herself in an Islamic country, she could be imprisoned. This would be foolish. But ask yourself: Am I doing this because I need to or just because I've always done it this way?
        What benefit is there to inconsistency? Greatness. Become great through seeing new and different ways of doing things. No discovery or invention or enlightenment was ever created from walking along the beaten path. Inconsistency can cause great misunderstanding. But Emerson said, "to be great is to be misunderstood."
        "If they give you ruled paper, write the other way" -- Juan, Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury



All content (except public domain such as Usenet and where otherwise noted) is copyright 1997-2009 'Bitchen' Ric Johnson