30 Things We Need / 30 Things We Don’t

I don’t usually like lists, but here’s one I can get behind:

WE NEED LESS / WE NEED MORE
Information / Wisdom (It’s better to understand than to know)
Shallow billionaires / Passionate teachers
Self-promotion / Self-awareness
Multitasking / Control of our attention (Can’t do two things at one; no-one can)
Inequality / Fairness (Income springs to mind)
Sugar / Lean protein (yes!)
Action / Reflection
Super sizes / Smaller portions (I need a smaller coffee cup)
Private jets / High-speed trains (Ontario especially suffers from a lack of transit)
Calculation / Passion (in the movies especially)
Experts / Learners (experts make problems worse)
Blaming / Taking responsibility
Judgment / Discernment (Judging is easy; discernment is hard)
Texting / Reading (Or long-form writing)
Anger / Empathy (Politics especially floats on a shallow sea of outrage; it’s so tiring)
Output / Depth (Don’t pay writers by the word!)
Constructive criticism / Thank-you notes
Possessions / Meaning (Memories and good friends don’t clutter up your house)
Righteousness / Doing the right thing
Answers / Curiosity (Yes! Don’t settle for the answer you get: Dig deeper)
Long hours / Longer sleep (This morning says yes)
Complaining / Gratitude (This is hard to do)
Sitting / Moving (Everything is built around sitting; moving a lot is difficult)
Selling / Authenticity (Although seeking authenticity is the opposite of authenticity)
Cynicism / Realistic optimism
Self-indulgence / Self-control (Ouch. This one’s for me. And banksters)
Speed / Renewal
Emails / Conversations (I remember the last really good conversation I had. It was with a stranger. I don’t really converse with my “friends” who on second though don’t really seem like friends at all)
Winning / Win-win
Immediate gratification / Sacrifice (This is starting to look like the New Testament in bullet points here)

10 Forms of Twisted Thinking

10 Forms of Twisted ThinkingBoth David Burns (bestselling author of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy and Abraham Low (founder of Recovery, Inc.) teach techniques to analyze negative thoughts (or identify distorted thinking — what psychologists call “cognitive distortions”) so to be able to disarm and defeat them.

Since Low’s language is a bit out-dated, I list below Burns’ “Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking,” (adapted from his “Feeling Good” book, a classic read) categories of dangerous ruminations, that when identified and brought into your consciousness, lose their power over you.

1. All-or-nothing thinking (a.k.a. my brain and the Vatican’s): You look at things in absolute, black-and-white categories.

2. Overgeneralization (also a favorite): You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

3. Mental filter: You dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives.

4. Discounting the positives: You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities don’t count (my college diploma was stroke of luck…really, it was).

5. Jumping to conclusions (loves alcoholic families): You conclude things are bad without any definite evidence. These include mind-reading (assuming that people are reacting negatively to you) and fortune-telling (predicting that things will turn out badly).

6. Magnification or minimization: You blow things way out of proportion or you shrink their importance.

7. Emotional reasoning: You reason from how you feel: “I feel like an idiot, so I must be one.”

8. “Should” statements (every other word for me): You criticize yourself or other people with “shoulds,” “shouldn’ts,” “musts,” “oughts,” and “have-tos.”

9. Labeling: Instead of saying, “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself, “I’m a jerk” or “I’m a loser.”

10. Blame: You blame yourself for something you weren’t entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and overlook ways that you contributed to a problem.

You can learn more about the 15 common cognitive distortions (e.g., the most common forms of twisted thinking with more in-depth explanations and examples), as well as how you can fix cognitive distortions once you’ve identified them.

Advertising In Dreams

There is going to come a day when corporations try to beam ads into my head while I sleep. They will call it dreamvertising or something else like that and for a while it will be all the rage, until they notice that no-one really remembers their dreams and that dreaming about a hamburger doesn’t necessarily make you want to have a hamburger. Then they’ll move on to something else even more annoying like ads that call your name or whisper focused sound waves into your ears as you walk. All so they can sell you a bunch of crap someone screwed together with their teeth overseas.

It’s not really my problem what people in factories overseas do (the world is so small now that I simply can’t worry about every single problem; there are far too many of them), but it is my problem when advertisers violate my personal space. The space inside my head and the space around my head are mind to with what I please.

I think we’re going to have fancy tinfoil hats in the future. If we don’t fight the next world war with sticks and stones, that is.

Intelligent Design

I can’t get over Intelligent Design. It’s one of those things that just doesn’t do anything. At all.

Look, I’m a Christian, and I’m supposed to believe that God created the universe. I’m already on board with that. I can look at the world and see God’s handiwork any time I like. I get that. It’s a selection bias, sure, but I am persuaded that it’s a selection bias for truth.

Why abstract this doctrine–that God created the universe, and all universes that may or may not exist–into something cloaked in scientific mumbo-jumbo and try to teach it to kids in schools? What purpose does this serve? Plenty of people admit that a God or an Intelligence or Something created the universe with just the right ingredients to produce people. But those people aren’t Christians in any meaningful sense; this idea of a Designer doesn’t affect their lives in any real way, which is the point, right?

Let public educators teach whatever they like. Let them leave the question of origins open and indeterminate (or let them tease young branes with M-theory if they like). We don’t need to hide God behind a non-falsifiable theoretical screen and then pull Jesus out like a puppet and say, “Oh and this Intelligence is JESUS!”.

That’s not how you get from here to there, you know?

The Me That Was The Me That Was

Nick says I’ve mellowed.

I’m not sure what to think of that. Maybe it’s just Nick that’s mellowed, and not me. I’m not even sure what mellowing is, except that it’s probably a lot less interesting than… what’s the opposite of mellow exactly?

If I need, I can always read my old blog posts. All the way back to 2004. You can too, if you wish. They’re all here, along with old pictures of me looking younger, my family looking younger, and other people who I no longer know looking younger.

I used to write a whole lot more. I’m not sure why that was, though I suspect it had something to do with loneliness. There was a time not so long ago when I was lonely most of the time; every once in a while I get a taste of that again and remember how empty my days were. There’s something visceral and wrenching about that feeling. Of course, I don’t regret any of it. What I did and what I didn’t do, who I was with and who I wasn’t made me what I am today, got me to where I am today, and I very much like where I am. Is that wrong? It doesn’t feel like it.

My life isn’t particularly more rushed or hurried than it was then. I’m married to Laura (it feels odd writing that; I don’t write it often enough, I suppose) and we have a particular kind of life, but even in my resting state now she’s always here or somewhere close by. Depending on how you feel about people being close to you, that may sound particularly delicious or decidedly unsettling. Either way. I like it.

Everything is different. I’m no longer an observer watching the course of my own life; I’m involved, doing things, making things better now. There’s something to be said for letting go of that awful passivity that goes along with events simply washing over me. For all my bluster back then, I was cruising, really. Letting things happen to me. Letting my circumstances manipulate me. Letting what happened happen. You can’t ever get entirely away from that, of course, and there are always going to be things I can’t control, but there’s a difference between being on autopilot and taking the yoke.

I hate it when people write about themselves, but I’m allowed to be a hypocrite and a navel-gazer every once in while, I think. I can’t help it; going back to 2004 and reading what the me that was me then wanted to write about… it takes a guy back.

25 Facts About Me

Thanks for tagging me, Mr Steve Talley. I’ve needed to write something lately.

1) I think that a person can hold two opposing ideas in their head without having any cognitive dissonance whatsoever. You don’t have so be special to do so, you just have to be human. I think a lot of people have a lot of this going on and don’t realise it at all.

2) I bought an iPod once, thinking I would use it. I haven’t really used it and I’m pretty glad I only sprung for the 1gb model. iPods are useless to me.

3) Since I was 7, I’ve read Swiss Family Robinson 34 times. The last time I read it was last year, in the summer.

4) Laura and I went on our honeymoon to Cuba. We forgot to bring a camera. I think we were just so overwhelmed with being married that we just didn’t think about anything else, or at least not anything very clearly. Part of me is glad that we don’t have pictures so it remains one of those pleasant memories; the other half of me knows that one day I’m going to start forgetting things and I’ll wish with 100% of my being that I had pictures at that point.

5) Sometimes I think that there are certain bloodlines that don’t deserve to be propagated. I’m glad I don’t get to make those decisions: I would be incredibly harsh on my own relatives.

6) I don’t really like children. I can picture having some one day, but I think I’ll have to be a bit of a different person to raise them properly (or at all). Thankfully it doesn’t take long for me to become a different person, which is scary when you’re married to someone. When you’re married to someone that wants kids it’s more like a catch-22.

7) Back in the day I used to believe that any person could marry any person and they’d probably get on just fine. Having been married for a while to Laura, I almost want to believe that there’s one person for everyone. I mean, sure, there are some major dimensions in each other that we don’t understand (I have, for instance, never been able to sustain one of those conversations that starts with bread and ends with how our friends’ children look nothing at all like them), but that makes it all the more interesting, right? In most other areas we’re so closely tailored to each other it almost looks like we were designed for each other. Which is freaky, and I understand in some sort of predestination sense that that is in fact true, but from a human perspective? Freaky. Yet I still can’t bear to bring myself to believe that ridiculous modern trope of “completion” and “other half” and whatever other crap so many people believe about love; I think I’ve settled on some sort of compromise in which some people are better for each other than others.

8) I love semi-colons. I really do. If you aren’t using semi-colons, you’re missing out on life. Somewhat ironically, this paragraph doesn’t have any.

9) If I could pick any age to live it, it would be the 1920s. This is also Laura’s pick, oddly enough. I think, though, that the 1920s I have in my head is very different from the 1920s as it existed in the real world.

10) There is a very active world inside my head. You don’t want to know what goes on there. Sometimes I think I’m closer to normal than I think, but when I say something odd, people react negatively; I wish I could figure out if that’s because they’re the same way and overcompensating, or because they’ve genuinely never had a strange though in their lives. I realise this entire bullet point makes me sound like I have Asperger’s. I truly hope I don’t.

11) Books annoy me. The ones I’m supposed to like in order to “get” modern literary culture are the most boring, annoyingly cloying slog-fests imaginable. It seems that I find more enjoyment from low-brow hack-work than from what so many call “art”. I guess that’s okay, but I’m still puzzled about what they see in it. If it’s not enjoyable, why read it? Or do they really enjoy it? How? Then there are those Bourne novels that I swear you have to be only semi-literate to like. I guess I’m a half-snob.

12) I wish I could have one of those Star Trek experiences where you inhabit someone else’s body and then gain a better understand of what it’s like to be them and the plot resolves while you glow with new-found empathy. That never seems to happen, so I’m trapped over here trying to understand why you suck so much.

13) I’m a snob. I’m a snob about being a snob, though, so I think snobs suck pretty hard. This goes back to bullet point #1, maybe?

14) Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch much television, listen to much radio (except for 1010, and even then just the conservative talking heads, a phrase which on second though really doesn’t apply much to radio), listen to much music, or generally experience culture in any way. This is fine; I don’t begrudge my parents this at all because so much of it seems like crap to me. Yet its left me with this culture void where I don’t get jokes about the 80s and 90s, don’t understand the references, and what little I do know is basically from modern pop-culture referencing older pop-culture. I only started listening to popular music something like 10 years ago, and most of that was Christian music, most of which was complete shit. (If you want a reason to dislike Christian music you’re unable to find any reasons in scripture — because it isn’t there, you nitwit — try disliking it because almost the entire genre is offensively without artistic or any other value.)

15) I’m like to make people laugh. I identify strongly with the character of Chandler Bing on Friends, but not simply in “humour as a defense mechanism” sort of way. If you’re looking for a real me underneath the humour you’re liable to be very disappointed. I can be serious at the drop of a hat if that’s what’s called for, but at the end of the day cracking jokes is part of my identity. It helps that Laura has a wonderful sense of humour; I’ve dated girls who didn’t find me the least bit funny, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s pretty much a moral failing on their part.

16) I used to be that guy with the strong opinions, but I’m not that guy anymore. Okay, I am, but I have strong opinions on different things now. All those arguments we used to have in church on minor theological point? I’m sure they’re important and I’m sure someone has to hash those things out, but those things aren’t important to me anymore. This doesn’t mean that I’ve become some sort of post-modern weed-smoking hippie guru chanting nonsense at the moon (I’m pretty sure that’s Sigur Ros, actually), but I’m not entirely convinced that life is a series of either right or wrong decisions whose gravity can only be measured insofar as you can tease out the logic and argue the facts. Some things just aren’t wrong or right because they weren’t made wrong or right. Some things are definitely wrong and some things are definitely right. Those are the important things.

17) I disagree with President Obama on many issues. Yet it seems to me that his time in office is a needed relief from the Bush administration. Bush’s terms were so awful that words almost don’t do them justice. Plus, any of the words that I could use are almost certainly not fit for public consumption.

18) There are times when I think I do too many things almost well enough to do publicly, but none well enough to be proud of. If I’m any indication, all those Renaissance Men were driven to distraction by the desire to do everything.

19) I haven’t a clue what to write here.

20) I wish creativity could be turned on like a tip. I admire and dislike those people who can effortlessly bang out a decent tune, but I’m glad I’m not one of them. I like having to wrench out words like prying up flagstones.

21) I own three cats. Or three cats own me. You decide.

22) I love Monty Python SO MUCH.

23) We have about two meals of real food left in the house. I fear we may starve soon.

24) I have never watched a horror movie in my life and I don’t intend to.

25) I got spam (actual spam!) for Christmas from my brother-in-law. It’s not good stuff.

We are all imperfect.

It’s easy to look at those people — no matter who those people are — and mark up their personal failings. It’s easy because personal failings are always more pronounced and obvious in those people. Especially after the fact.

You can look at those people in light of their most recent transgressions and say, Ah, I see the failing that led up to this calamitous fall. Or, Ah, I always suspected. Or, Ah, I told you so.

There is some value to this, of course, if you examine yourself through and through, if you comb through your own life to find if that same root might one day flower into a full-grown plant, to find if you’re hiding the same sort of bodies in a closet somewhere.

As a leader of a church you can ask yourself how you can prevent your charges from falling into grievous sin. But from a human perspective there isn’t anything you can do. People are good at façades, good at erecting walls and appearing perfect when they are in fact anything but.

Quite a few churches seem oblivious to this fact. It’s non-obvious to them, and probably for good reason. After all, if the intensive study of scripture, if participation in an ancient tradition, if having the right doctrine and presumably the right relationship with God, if the right kind of exegetical preaching with enough emphasis on sin, if these things don’t produce a church full of the proper kind of people, what can? Everyone feels like they should be better; they should be sinning less, they should be doing more, they should be… something. And everyone else looks just like this portrait of the perfect Christian, so we all just pretend.

This happens in every kind of church. Post-modern, modern, ancient, whatever. Because it’s human nature, and human nature is a hard thing to get over.

It doesn’t, of course, have to be this way. The recognition of sin shouldn’t drive people ever more into a world of spackle and paste and paint and fabric, but deep into the arms of God’s grace. The recognition of imperfection should drive men and women to break down the walls between then, no matter what these walls are made of. Whether they’re middle-class suburban perfection, or theological precision, or a pious but empty care for the disenfranchised.

What else do we share? Rich, middle-class, poor: We’re all deeply and entirely flawed. Flawed to the point that each of us, apart from Christ, is liable to fall horribly. Even in Christ we still have that old man nipping on our heels.

I speak from deep within this myself. I am imperfect. I am part of a community of believers who are imperfect. Our leadership is imperfect. Our feeble attempts to draw close to God are imperfect.

But the most important thing, I think, is the realisation, and then the action. A kind of humility that gives grace to those who have fallen, who have done terrible things, whether they are living in rebellion against God or not, and whether they are seeking forgiveness and reconciliation or not.

Things I think about whilst doing dishes…

  • Sometimes when Laura leaves the house to go out and do whatever, I do dishes and listen to post-rock. You know, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky, Mono, Red Sparrowes, that sort of thing. Right now I’m listening to This is Your Captain Speaking. It’s good stuff! If you’ve ever listened to post-rock, you’ll know how hard it is to come across truly interesting material, even by those veterans of the genre such as (and especially) Mogwai. TIYCS seems interested in being interesting. That’s good.
  • I don’t like megachurches. I mean, I can see where they fit into the ecosystem of Christianity — if it can be called an ecosystem as opposed to a burgeoning, idiotic choas — but I don’t like them. I don’t think I ever will. It’s not simply that they’re generally white, suburban, middle-class and almost always utterly devoted to not offending anyone. It’s that they’re not distributed enough. They’re too centralised. Thus, one pastor boffs his secretary, the whole thing goes under, and your sanctuary gets converted into indoor soccer field. I’m pretty sure churches should be small, efficient, face-to-face, involved, local, community-based, and active. But mostly small. Enough that you can’t hide in the crowds. But also enough that if something goes wrong, and entire faith community isn’t left floundering in the shallows.
  • Let me ask you this: Why do you dislike Thomas Kinkade’s art? Is it because his art is bad? I bet it isn’t. I bet you don’t know good art from bad art even if such things exist. What you probably mean to say, instead of, “I dislike Thoman Kinkade’s art,” is, “I dislike Thomas Kinkade“. That would probably be more accurate. You don’t like his commercialising of his art (but when was art ever not commercial?), you dislike his subject matter (though his paintings are quite nice to look at), and you especially dislike the types of people who buy his prints (you think they’re generally the unwashed white trash living in trailer parks somewhere, their floor and ceilings and furniture covered in linoleum). You don’t want to be one of them, because that wouldn’t be… something. Wouldn’t be cool, wouldn’t be acceptable to your peers, wouldn’t truly speak to your sensibilities and your good taste. Maybe what you should say instead is, “It’s not kosher to like Thomas Kinkade… so I don’t like him.” Because at least then you’d be a bit more honest. In the meantime, look at some of his paintings. They’re quite nice.
  • This may be some indie music heresy, but you know what’s wrong with My Bloody Valentine? They’re completely and mind-numbingly boring. Sure, they came up with sounds no-one had ever heard a guitar make before, but none of those sounds is interesting.
  • I hate modern classical music. I really do. Things started going off the rails in the early 1900s and haven’t gotten back on since. Once I thought, “Why have people accepted abstract art, but not abstract music?” The answer is, of course, that a bunch of different colours splashed on a canvas a la Pollock can be extraordinarily — if unintentionally — beautiful. It doesn’t hurt me to look at. Notes seemingly scribbled on a page at random, however, has the capability to make me — and from the look of it lots of people — wince. (I am abusing my dashes; I know.) Harmony and melody aren’t old social conventions meant to stifle the artists. They are a common framework in which we as Westerners operate. It may indeed be that this only a custom, but that doesn’t matter: It’s ingrained and there’s no point in the composer trying to wiggle it loose. You are literally hurting me with your atonal disasters, your craptastic 12-tone form, and your alternative rhythmic nightmare. Go write some music someone wants to listen to; see if there is perhaps something of value to be found in those old forms everyone seems to have abandoned without a reasonable alternatives. Rediscover, for heaven’s sake, the power of beautiful music. Don’t make it your mission to question what beauty is. It just is.
  • My, there are far too many dishes here.

    It’s like everyone’s getting married…

    I feel old these days, with people I used to know and people I still know getting engaged and married. We’re all growing up and it’s happy and sad at the same time.

    This is the best life I can possibly imagine for myself. Married to a woman who (it’s true, I didn’t make it up) loves me and who I love back. Living in a pretty nice apartment in a bit of a rough neighbourhood with access to all the amenities we want. Need a coffee? Walk over and get one. Need some groceries? Five minutes down the road. Want to rent a video? Basically across the street. Want to buy Chinese rice and fish heads? Asian supermarket around the corner. Want cheap (in every meaning of the word) furniture? Ten minutes away, an Ikea. You get the picture.

    I mean, I can imagine living in a swankier place, owning a house with a backyard and all that jazz, but I don’t think it would make me any happier. It might be the icing on the cake. But right now I have everything I need and more than I ever thought I could have.

    That’s good. I don’t miss my subterranean existence in that miserable hovel of an apartment I used to have. I don’t miss being precariously poised on the edge of infatuation and incandescent disaster. I don’t miss the restlessness of wanting something or someone and being constantly outside looking in. I don’t miss much. Maybe, sometimes, I miss the way there were only two bus stops between me and work, but that’s it.

    It was never the best of times. It was almost always the worst.

    Yet there’s still something about being young. Or younger. I’m pushing 30 here. I don’t feel it at all and I wonder if anyone ever really does. At 20, 30 seemed so very far away. Now, at 27, it feel right around the corner. There was a time when I counted hours in a day. Now I count days in a week. Soon, I suspect, I’ll be counting weeks, and then years.

    I miss being a romantic. Not the action of being romantic, not the things I do to make Laura feel loved, but actually being a romantic. I think it was being on the other side of dreams coming true that made me feel as if it must, must happen. As if getting there was the reason behind so many thing. Now that my dreams have come true — in ways different than I could have imagined — I can’t help but notice all those people whose dreams, whatever they are, have not and may never will.

    You may always find yourself chasing a dream and never getting anywhere, feeling like you were destined for something bigger than yourself and falling short of your expectations. Or you will fall in and out of love like a person breaking the surface of an ocean and going under again and again. You may never get there. Maybe you will find it and it will leave you.

    I’m not a romantic anymore. Oh, I fall for a good love story like anyone else — Endless Love was almost too good to be spoiled by its awful ending, for instance — but I’m not enamoured of the concept that life works out all the time. Maybe that’s because mine seems to be, so far, despite me. I don’t know. God works in mysterious ways, as the song goes, and despite what you may think about God, I’m pretty sure some of those mysterious ways are to teach concrete lessons. Sometimes people get what they don’t deserve, and sometimes they do. Either way.

    Tonight I can’t sleep. I think it has something to do with the coffee I had three hours ago. I know, drinking coffee before bed, not a good thing. I used to be able to do that.

    To all you people I used to know: Congratulations. At least five or six of you got married. This is good. And to those that I still know: Double congratulations. You’re great people. I hope very much you remain happy.

    Songs

    I’ve never had a muse. I’ve always wondered what it might be like to have one.

    There’s so much to the creative process I don’t understand. Why two people’s art can look and sound so different, yet be distinctly theirs. Why when you seek to imitate it you feel like a forger and your art like a forgery, no matter how remarkable the result.

    I can’t count the number of songs I’ve written and the number of poems I’ve pulled out of my head. I don’t think I’d want to. They come and go in phases and shifts. I could never count on a living as a musician: I simply can’t turn it on like a tap. I can sit at the piano and write fifty different phrases and attach fifty different lyrics to those phrase but they won’t satisfy me. Thirty minutes or two days later I sit down and the first thing I play is magic.

    There are so few chords and combinations of notes, really. There are only so many ways to put them together before you run out and have to start recycling.

    Sometimes you can want desperately to write about something but find yourself unable to write about it and instead spend a half hour writing about something else when you should be sleeping.

    Playing old songs is a challenge. I can never remember exactly how they go. Maybe I’m making them up as I go, again, and I have no way of knowing. Only the few I record I know for certain. The rest are possibly recent.

    Isn’t it strange how music can reach out and tweak something inside you that logic and facts and science can never explain, much less themselves touch? I played a song the other day that made me feel sad in a way I haven’t felt for a long time now. It made me feel something. This amazes me.

    Thinking back, my former art was a shallow imitation of feeling, a tissue-thin façade less tangible than those things I professed to know and write about. If you had to hear them, I am sorry. If you felt a remarkable kinship for me then, even more so. I should be forgiven, I think, for those songs and the words to those songs. We all should, who wrote like that. We were children. If we had a grasp of irony far in excess of our years, we squandered it on songs we thought were about love. We were obsessed with love and being in love and writing about love and being in love. When you are in the desert you write songs about water. We are adults now and instead of obsessing some of us have moved on and are actually loving and being in love. That’s a much harder thing to write about. There’s almost no way to do it properly.

    If I’m being too subtle in my lyrics, I don’t apologise. If you can mine seventeen different meanings or none at all, I couldn’t care less. These songs are for me, not for you. These things are the most intensely selfish things I will ever produce, the most tuned to myself. They can’t help but be. They’re my intellectual and emotional children. That you hear them, some of them, is a raw vulnerability I can’t help but shy away from. This is the singer/songwriter curse, of course. These are not songs written by a group of people in a room. They’re not statements about politics or revolution or technological disorientation. They’re songs that bubble to the surface in privacy, when alone.

    I have become too verbose.