26 Pieces of Unsolicited Advice

2014 marks twenty-six years on this planet for me. As I’ve done for the past two years, I’m once again taking the opportunity to look back at the people, events, ideas, and experiences that have defined me. At 24, I listed 24 things I learned in 24 years and for 25, I reflected on 25 things for which I was grateful (part one and part two). For 26, I’m running through 26 pieces of unsolicited advice that I feel make for a richer life. Make of them what you will. Here we go…

 

1. If you have the opportunity to grow your own vegetables or seasonings, even just a few tomatoes, do so.

2. Watch the Big Lebowski.

3. If you’re worried that others look down on you for whatever reason, whether it’s your career path, lifestyle choices, or politics, just remember that most people are too damned self absorbed to really care what you do or what you think. In fact, when they asked you about any of these things, they probably didn’t even listen to your response.

4. Read the poetry of Hart Crane.

5. Read the poetry of WH Auden.

6. Listen to the Smiths while reading the poetry of Hart Crane or WH Auden.

7. Specifically for my fellow Torontonians, your city is bigger than your neighbourhood. I understand that our less than stellar transit makes it difficult, but you have to put in the effort to explore all of Toronto. You need to soak up the culture on Queen West and stroll the waterfront, but you also need to bike Rouge Park, see Shakespeare in High Park, and head north of the 401, which is where the best food in the city can be found.

8. Once a week, call up a friend. Pick a coffeshop that you’ve never visited or haven’t visited in a while and go there. Sit across from your friend, or around the table with a few friends, and have a conversation over coffee.

9. Get a public library card and use it.

10. Should you ever find yourself in Paris, you may go to the top of the Eiffel Tower and take pictures. I understand that this is practically mandatory. In addition, however, climb the steps of the Pantheon and Sacre Coeur and take pictures from the top of both places.

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I’m Grateful For…25 in 25 (Part One)

Last year, I turned 24 and decided to share 24 things I learned in those years. If the reader will let me be self-indulgent again this year, I’m continuing on a similar theme and sharing 25 things for which I’m truly grateful as my 25th birthday approaches in a few weeks. These are really just the items that happened to occur to me as I wrote, but I suppose that makes them raw and honest. It grew quite a bit, so I’ll be splitting it into two parts. Here’s the first.

UPDATE: Part two can be read here.

1. Cooking

A wise man once told me that cooking is one of the highest forms of lovemaking. A good meal appeals to all the senses and when you cook for someone – a friend, lover, family, anyone – they know that you’ve laboured to make them happy. Cooking and sitting down together for a meal is how we take care of one another. Cooking ensures that our loved ones’ basic nutritional needs are met, but also offers us time to come together to share in one another’s company. The most valuable thing that you can give someone is your time and when you cook for someone, you give them your time in creating a beautiful meal and in enjoying it with them.

2. Writing

The most obvious item on this list for anyone who knows me. Since I’ve started keeping this blog, I’ve written the equivalent of three books and the adrenaline rush I get from putting an idea onto the page is beyond words, even for someone as verbose as I can be. I am in full agreement with the late great Christopher Hitchens, who in his last days said, “My life is my writing before it’s anything. Because that’s who I am and my children come later and that’s what they’ve had to put up with.” I am happiest when I write, and if no one were to read my words – hardly anyone does as it is – that would be fine by me.

3. The Films of Quentin Tarantino

Films don’t just have to entertain us. They can challenge us, scare us, offend us, and thrill us in a way that causes us to lose sight of that reassuring mantra, “It’s just a movie.” This is what I learned when John Travolta drove that adrenaline shot into Uma Thurman’s chest and when Michael Madsen made sure that I would think of only one thing when I hear Stealers Wheel. Quentin Tarantino was and is the maverick filmmaker for my generation, the storyteller who made me fall in love with cinema.

His films were the gateway drug which have left me with an insatiable appetite for films that don’t just seek to entertain, but assault the viewer’s senses and sensibilities. Since developing this appetite in my teens, I’ve found and savoured Ingmar Bergman, Martin Scorsese, Luis Bunuel, Federico Fellini, Woody Allen, Terrence Malick, Roman Polanski, Werner Herzog, Francois Truffaut, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, and the Coen Brothers.

4. My Nieces

It simply doesn’t matter that I’m a grown man in a position of authority over my nieces. When a four year old tells you that she is going to comb your hair so that you can “look like a princess,” you kind of just have to go along with it. If anything, kids humble you. Any parent, uncle, aunt, or even older cousin or sibling, knows that when it comes to the young people in your life, you find yourself willing to work especially hard for their happiness or stoop to especially low levels for their amusement. They’ll even challenge you and ask questions about a Dr. Seuss story that never crossed your mind. Having been an uncle for almost five years now, I’m actually proud of myself for learning not to be so self-centred and put the lives of others ahead of my own.

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2013 What’s in a Name Reading Challenge

I often find that despite the fact that I’m someone who reads often, I nonetheless easily fall in to the trap of reading “narrowly.” What I mean by this is that I gravitate to the genres and authors that I find comfortable and that I know will bring gratification. I am also admittedly partial to fiction over non-fiction, and when I do pick up a history book, it usually covers a period of time and place that I have already visited through reading fiction.

For 2013, my goal is to read more “widely” and creatively. To help me do so, I have signed up for the What’s in a Name Reading Challenge being hosted by blogger Beth Fish Reads. The challenge is simple enough, asking the participant to read a book that falls into six different categories and subsequently share their thoughts through reviews and reflections. These reviews and reflections will subsequently be collected and shared on the Beth Fish Reads blog (follow the first link in this paragraph for more details).

Below are the six categories in the challenge and my selections. Participants have the entirety of 2013 to complete the challenge, so I will be providing updates throughout the year as I progress. As I said, this is a great way for readers to make more creative choices and also to share their thoughts with one another as they read and I would encourage everyone to get onboard.

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Opportunity (Why I Love IABC Toronto)

My new post for the official blog of the Toronto Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators has been posted. In this piece, I discuss the value of being an IABC member and why blogging in general is a worthwhile endeavour on both a professional and personal level.

You can read the entire piece here. Below is an excerpt:

The greatest source of opportunity that IABC has provided, however, and what I truly love most about being a member, is the simple privilege of posting to this blog. As someone passionate about writing, it’s invaluable to have an outlet to share ideas and content that will be viewed by an audience of experienced communicators. This blog has given me the opportunity to sharpen my writing skills while gaining exposure and legitimate experience by publishing my writing on a reputable platform.

I know the results of my efforts on this blog have been worthwhile. When I began an internship at the beginning of this year that I recently completed, my manager was clear that my writing on this blog influenced my selection for the position. At every event I attend, my nametag almost always rings a bell among fellow attendees because of my writing on this blog. I can also say honestly that contributing here has helped me grow as a writer.

It’s no secret that potential employers are looking for enthusiasm and initiative. Giving them something beyond an application, cover letter, or CV is key to showing that you not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. This is precisely why IABC Toronto, and this blog in particular, is so valuable to young aspiring communicators. Here you have the opportunity to share your ideas and knowledge through your writing.

What I’ve Learned (24 in 24)

On the 8th of this month, I will reach the age at which William Pitt became the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Jack Dempsey became the Heavyweight Champion. I’ve accomplished significantly less than those men, but I’ve gathered some interesting lessons on the journey so far. Below are 24 things I’ve learned in 24 years. Most were learned quite recently, and most I still struggle to apply. These are also the things that work for me and I don’t necessarily mean for them to apply universally, so chilaxe if you disagree. I’m not sure I want everyone to be like me, anyway.

Here we go…

1. Aristotle devotes one book each of the Nicomachean Ethics to the topics of virtue, happiness, and justice, along with every other topic he covers. Friendship, however, gets two books. There’s good reason for that.

2. Everything that Marlon Brando says in Last Tango in Paris is pretty much the truth.

3. When I lay on my deathbed I’m probably not going to lament that fact that I didn’t have a fancy job title that brought in lots of money, nor will the people I care about.

4. The greatest benefit of contemplative silence and meditation, and the one that is almost never acknowledged publicly, is coming face to face with just how much of yourself is made up those thoughts, feelings, and forces that you condemn and claim to despise.

5. Living every day like it’s your last is not feasible. I’ve tried it a few times and I’m lucky none of those days actually turned out to be my last.

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The Message is the Message

The medium is the message. Professor McLuhan’s mantra is now more of a catchphrase. It’s quoted more often than understood and usually to mean something different each time it’s used. I myself never quite grasped what McLuhan was trying to convey, never having been immersed enough in his work. When the phrase is used, it’s usually meant to say that while content is important, how that content is conveyed is equally significant. Mark Federman contends that McLuhan meant something entirely different. Federman argues that the Professor never meant to deny the importance of content or even to equate content with the message. The message was something entirely different. Federman writes,

McLuhan tells us that a “message” is, “the change of scale or pace or pattern” that a new invention or innovation “introduces into human affairs.” Note that it is not the content or use of the innovation, but the change in inter-personal dynamics that the innovation brings with it. Thus, the message of theatrical production is not the musical or the play being produced, but perhaps the change in tourism that the production may encourage.

I’ve now been blogging for a little over a year, prolifically on occasion and sometimes entirely absent for extended periods. Starting out, I had no clear idea what this blog was supposed to be about or what my niche would be and it still seems that way. It started with something of a rant about the show 24 and its endorsement of torture, moved on to another rant about the horse-race coverage of politics, and even saw me step into the controversy surrounding the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” the piece of which I’m most proud of writing.  I managed to play a very, very (and I mean very) minor role in calling to save the Ethics Centre at the University of Toronto, and  expressed anxiety about graduate school, which I’ve now survived (barely).

Thus far, my approach to writing and this blog in particular has been simple. I write about whatever the hell I feel like and so far this has worked for me. The biggest success of this blog is that I’ve actually been able to put my thoughts on paper (or screen to be exact) and share them with an audience, usually a very modest one. It’s not easy to pull traffic when you’re existing in your own little corner on the web, but I can’t say that this has ever been my objective. I’ve chosen to remain loyal to Rainer Maria Rilke’s creed about writing, “Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.” If I managed zero hits, and all that resulted from all this writing was a wasteland of words, I would still do it. This personal space to share my thoughts, write, and have a conversation with myself and hopefully others is a valuable thing in and of itself.

Similarly, I had no concept whatsoever of how “the medium” worked and what was distinct about it. There was no thought concerning how the web or blogging would, in the words of Professor McLuhan, bring me into a world of unique inter-personal dynamics and innovation, but it has. Blogging has become more than a one way outlet by which I could have my say. While I may be stating the obvious, the medium is a powerful one, but most of all one which is not consumeristic  or passive. This medium is raw, often instant, and for better or worse, unedited and uncensored. Most of all, again for better or worse – better as far as I’m concerned – it’s accessible to nearly anyone.

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This is Your Brain on the Web

In my last post, I outlined what I loved about the web and specifically about blogging. I spend hours a day online reading, writing and researching. As a student, it’s an indispensable and extremely convenient tool. Rather than hunt down articles or books at the library, which may not even have them once I get there, much of the information that I need for research is available instantly online. I love the fact, as I mentioned in that last post, that the web offers a far larger array of interesting material than do most other mediums, all of which I can access with ease and basically no cost whatsoever. Essentially, I’m probably not going to stop my surfing habits any time soon. Some recent pieces by Nicholas Carr, however, have caused me to take pause and reflect on my relationship with the web, specifically how it has changed my habits and cognitive makeup – and yes, I found Carr’s pieces on the web. Specifically, it seems that my relationship with the web has significantly altered my relationship with my first love, books.

Anyone who knows me will know that I am and have always been an avid reader and lover of books. As much time as I spend on the web, I don’t see myself jettisoning the pleasure of the traditional printed book, even with the advent of the Kindle or iPad. In high school, my reading was at its most voracious. I would typically go through two books every week while fully absorbing and appreciating everything I read, never rushing through the finely crafted prose of Rushdie or without pausing to contemplate the ethics of A Clockwork Orange. I got through so many books in so little time simply because I had the drive and willingness to devote my time to them. Reading wasn’t a hobby or something I did whenever I had a spare moment, but rather a part of my everyday routine, as important as having breakfast or doing laundry – reading truly felt like a necessity.

This has changed somewhat over the past few years. Now, while I still consider books to be an integral part of my life, I find that I do less reading, though I still do read regularly. However, while I went through two or three books a week in high school, I might now take a week and a half to two weeks to finish a novel. Furthermore, I find that my memory is not quite as sharp as it once was when it comes to what I’ve read. For example, only a few years ago I could easily recall off the top of my head the last several books I had read and talk extensively about them, whereas it now takes a moment to remember the last book I read and the important details of it, most likely because I’m not constantly reading as I once was. I’d like to think that I still read more than the average person and I can still retain information about what I’ve read quite well, but somehow I don’t feel it’s as effortless as it once was. My reading habits have changed drastically, of  that there is no doubt. Sitting down with a book for three hours straight is now impossible though it was once routine, and I will spend a bit more time with each page in order to absorb its contents fully. This change of habit seems to directly correlate with my growing use of the web and the effect that it has had on my brain, and this is where Nicholas Carr comes into the picture.

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Worth Your Time

Here are some interesting things I’ve found around the internets recently that I thought you might all enjoy. Currently working away at some stuff right now which will hopefully be up soon.

Patti Digh has a great piece up at her blog “37 Days” about what it takes to be a writer (hint: you have to fucking write!) Read it here. Here’s a great excerpt:

The writing is everything. Not the publishing. Not the work-shopping. Not the agent-shopping. Not the Amazon sales rank. Not the deciding who will play you in the movie (Meryl Streep, of course, for 90% of us, what with the accents and all). No, just the writing. The unsexy part. The part where blood drips from your forehead and you imagine yourself far more precious and special than you are.

Also, given their latest privacy issues, here’s a list of 10 reasons to quit Facebook. Haven’t yet quit myself, but it’s worth considering after reading this.

Professor Eric Schwitzgebel has charted the prominence of certain philosophers and ideas in academic journals in a series of handy charts found here. Nietzsche’s on the rise and Dualism just won’t go away.

Those scamps Glenn Greenwald and Larry Lessig are at it again over the nomination of Elena Kagan. This is one of the few intelligent and substantive debates we’ll get over Kagan’s nomination so savour it. View the video here.

And that’s about it for now. Happy reading until next time.

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