Rye bread

Day 87: Monday

Morning, Tim!

My apologies for being a bum correspondent last week! A better week ahead.

There were times when I would get stressed growing up. My mom was very kind about it, reminding me that I only had one day to get through that day. In fact, I couldn’t do anything about those past, nor solve for those ahead. If I put my head down and pushed through doing the right thing today, I’d be set.

Coming from my mom, I used to think this was fantastic advice for those times. I used it throughout college to push through weeks where school and work teamed up to overload my schedule. What would otherwise be overwhelming wasn’t so bad if I focused on today alone.

I have come to learn that it’s a pretty good idea to simply focus on today each day, not just in times of stress or pressure. While certainly good to learn from the past, and countless wisdom literature discusses the need to plan accordingly for the future, it seems today has its own challenges. In times of stress, it may simply be getting through the work. In times of relaxation, perhaps choosing to spend the time in a meaningful way for the benefit of others, not just self. There are opportunities to run astray — to eat the cake; to watch all of the episodes of that season, not just one; to slip into complacency when others could drastically use your help. Each day we have a lot to do, and most days we don’t get it all right.

Give us this day our daily bread

There is a recognition of asking for help, an element of taking it day by day, and a reminder that sustenance in bread is perhaps more realistic than sustenance through cake.

Until tomorrow,
Zak

A Peruvian Table

Day 86: Wednesday

Good morning Zak,

It’s become clear to me that my flatmate is in a pyramid scheme.  I heard her talking about it the other day.  This is something where the majority of income comes from recruiting other people to join.  Not a legitimate business… These things kind of creep me out sometimes.

So here’s one for you: do I have a moral obligation to reason with her about pyramid schemes?

Here’s another one for you: how do you pronounce Xlktsptetizd?

Now that one will keep you up at night.  Every now and then my composition Maestro asks me how to pronounce an American last-name.  I’ve tried to explain that ‘American’ last-names are of all different nationalities; unlike Italian last-names, they have no consistent pronunciation.

“How do you say this?” (points to a string of random letters. mostly consonants.)
“It depends where the name comes from.”

My first-name is enough to give the Italians a run for their money.  Timothy.  Not Team-o-tea.  I just recently started teaching English at an elementary school nearby.  The kids are hilarious.  The moment I step into the classroom they start up like a proper dawn chorus if each bird chanted Team-o-tea instead of its usual morning song.  I guess that’s one ‘English’ word they like.

The short i sound in Timothy doesn’t really exist in Italian.  This means it’s easy for them to confuse words like ship and sheep.  Also hit and heat, fit and feet, slip and sleep… as native speakers we don’t often think about how similar those words sound.  Actually, they almost become poetic when you string a bunch together:

I sit the sheep
in the ship on a seat.
It drifts away,
my mind slips off to sleep—
my feet fit snuggly
in their slippers…

Not all poetry makes sense.

Last week I went to a concert of songs based on Shakespeare poetry. Shakespeare makes me so nostalgic.  Sometimes too nostalgic.  Actually anything I studied a lot when I was younger can have that effect.  Do you ever get the feeling your life is written in blank verse?

Anyway.  Maybe I’ll empathize better with my flatmate now that I get where she’s coming from.  Pyramid schemes are build on dominance.  The dominance of people who join early over those who join later.  Living in a Nietzschean universe like that, I can almost see why you might stick two thick master locks on your cereal cupboard.

Sometimes you gotta have a sense of humor about things.  I told my Maestro I’m starting to teach English to little children.  He nearly rolled on the floor laughing:

“What, they’ll ask you, how do you say tavola.  ‘It depends where the table comes from.  If it’s a Peruvian table, you say tahh-b-lay.’”

So yeah…

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Anti-Mustachioed

Day 85: Friday

Morning, Tim!

The Pope is visiting you tomorrow — how exciting!

I’ve been pondering your chances of becoming Pope. What with your ability to speak languages and translate — somehow, miraculously, English included! — perhaps you have a shot. Now, you may remember that there were betting sites on who would become pope, with demonstrable odds. But that was back when there was a Pope opening…so we’ll have to factor that in. Here’s what I’ve found.

First, there’s a simple 14 step guide, so it seems pretty easy. There’s even a step about going back and talking to your high school guidance counselor!

But that seems perhaps too straight forward. Ultimately, what I’ve found in reading, is that you must be 1) Catholic and 2) Male.

So you’re fairly close, I suppose.

But that’s only on technicality. There’s also the piece around for the most part having to be a Cardinal (because that’s who decides…). So what are those requirements?

Well, you have to be a priest, then a bishop…so you’ll need education (Which you’re rocking now!…wait…I guess composition doesn’t count..). And some years of experience.

Ultimately I like this post’s description best:

So that’s the career path: be born into the right half of the population, become one of a billion catholics, then one of 400,000 priests, then one of 5,000 bishops, then one of 200 cardinals, wait for the current pope to die or retire, and convince 2/3rds of your fellow cardinals to select you as the one, the only pope.

But let’s be honest, Tim. This is a boring analysis because it’s already been done. Let’s think of other factors that may limit you…

  1. Handlebar mustache. To date, scrolling through the 266 Popes, I found that none had a handlebar mustache. Being the first mustachioed Pope would be impressive, but also may be a limiting factor if they weigh that and discriminate against your kind.

Well…perhaps that’s it. I’ve sat and thought of other factors. For example, age; but, while you’d be young, you’re apparently older than the youngest ever pope. I also considered height and weight, ownership of birds, an ability to ride a unicycle, sense of humor, etc., but surprisingly there aren’t readily available datasets on those…that seems like a good blog idea. If we start to run out of topics here we can go start that one.

In fact, Pope facts generally aren’t readily available, I think an oversight the internet has made! So rather than an unusual use of a spoon, I’ll offer the fact that made me chuckle the most:

There are about 5.9 Popes per square mile in Vatican City

…pretty crazy.

Until Monday,

Zak

p.s. Do you think the pope gave up something really important to him for Lent? Perhaps his new year’s resolutions…

Class Decaffeinated

Day 84: Thursday

Good morning Zak,

So I went to class today only to find that it wasn’t happening.  Our instructor was in Rome, and he forgot to tell us.  A friend of mine was there—another foreigner.  He wasn’t happy about it.  I tried to explain to him that this kind of thing is normal in Italy.

Italians are fantastically impractical.  The other day I was running a bit late for a meeting.  I was trying to buy a train ticket, but the machine wasn’t working.  This was problematic because the Italians had installed a modern art gallery in the metro-station instead of a ticket office.  No joke.  The broken machine was my only hope…

Zak, this crazy country is too much sometimes.  I recently saw a policeman writing up parking tickets.  I’m not sure how he decides which of the cars lying every which way on the sidewalk to skip.

I don’t know how they get anything done in this place.

A different class actually did happen today.  A piece of music we were looking at had a paragraph written in English on the first page.  The Maestro asked me to translate.  I did.  Everyone was surprised by how well I knew English.

So anyway, my friend and I went to get a café together when we found out class was canceled.  My friend is still relatively new to Italian.

“I’m having a café lungo.  What do you want?”

“Uh, café decafenato.”

“What is this word, decafenato?  Café with all the café taken out?”

Somehow that conversation was much funnier in broken Italian.

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Flamingo and the Quotations

Day 83: Wednesday

Morning, Tim!

Let’s jump right in.

Yesterday:

I was born ambidextrous, so I know this first hand.

More like you were born ambidextrous, so, you know — both hands.

For our readers, that’s the best I’ve got today. What follows will almost certainly be downhill.

Zak, when I first met you, before you married my sister, I’m pretty sure you were under the impression that the Socratic method was not only for philosophy but also for socializing.  Actually I’m pretty sure that exact thought must have been going through your head during that season of life.

“I like your green tee-shirt.”

“Thanks.”

“Is green your favorite color?”

“Um… actually, it is.”

“And why’s that?”

To clarify, is that how we became friends? Because I’m pretty sure with your sister it was the purple dress 🙂

do love to socialize that way. What’s your favorite this? Between these two (ridiculous) options, which would you choose? How many X do you think you could fend off before Y happened?

And you got it right — the money question follows: “Why”?  We get a glimpse inside someone’s head, how they reason, feel, communicate, react. By beginning with ‘random’ questions there is an innocence to that barrier slowly eroding — the opposite of global warming, if you will.

Zak, in other letters I’ve often bemoaned the lack of sound advice to be found in classical literature for picking up girls.  It turns out I’ve just been reading the wrong books all this time.  The Greek philosophers certainly didn’t let you down.

Not a lot of commentary here. I just really appreciate this observation. A hearty laugh burst out when I read it. It rings just as true this morning and makes me smile.

I agree we can’t always take the advice of Greek philosophers — that why may only get you so far. But hey it got me to the girl, and for the rest, there’s that faith thing you mention.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

p.s. I realize I mostly just commented on your post yesterday. I had originally wanted to write about why curiosity was a good thing, and to some degree, I suppose we’ve suggested the benefits of being curious. But your post yesterday was just that good that I couldn’t help myself – my brief musings on curiosity simply wouldn’t have been as good.

p.p.s. I’ve had this thing lately where I’ve been acting like a flamingo. Your sister has been irate and told me to stop it. I didn’t want to, so I put my foot down. I guess she won anyway…

p.p.p.s. The title of this post kind of sounds like a really bad name for a band…

Writing Rightly

Day 82: Tuesday

Good morning Zak,

As a writer, or at least as someone who poses as a writer, I like thinking a lot about words.  Especially about unusual uses for words.

There are a lot of ways to use the word “right.”  People can be right-handed, right-winged, or just generally right about things…  In Italian, the word we use for “left” is sinistra, which comes from the Latin sinister, also meaning “left.” 

Today’s unusual usage for a spoon: determining a child’s dominant writing hand.

Incidentally, our English word “sinister” has the same etymology.  The ancients used to believe left-handed people were daemon-possessed.  That’s why right has traditionally carried auspicious connotations and left  inauspicious ones.  There’s a symbolism behind it all.

But discriminating against left-handed people is clearly not right.  I was born ambidextrous, so I know this first hand.  I used to drive my parents crazy by picking up my spoon with the opposite hand for every bite of cereal.  But I can’t discriminate against half of myself.  That would be not only logically incorrect, but also wrong.

In your last entry:

“At work, we have this commitment to ‘being curious over right.'”

But there are some things we simply can’t know first hand.  Like, Zak, as much as I’d like to know what it’s like to be you, there seems to be some kind of insurmountable barrier that separates us from each other.  I’m not talking about the Atlantic ocean.  Although that is one obstacle between us at the moment, it’s nothing compared to the ever untraversable threshold that separates one human consciousness from the next.

We all have different ways of handling that barrier.  Some people don’t deal with it at all, which is probably the saddest way.  Other people read and write things:

“I felt I had escaped for a moment from the prison of my own head and caught a brief glimpse inside someone else’s.”

And still others just try asking people lots of questions:

“Too often someone will state their point of view, perhaps more confidently than what they could […] back up if [we] continuously asked [them] ‘why.’”

Now that’s one very charming strategy.  I’m given to understand that philosophers call this “the Socratic method.”

Zak, when I first met you, before you married my sister, I’m pretty sure you were under the impression that the Socratic method was not only for philosophy but also for socializing.  Actually I’m pretty sure that exact thought must have been going through your head during that season of life.

“I like your green tee-shirt.”

“Thanks.”

“Is green your favorite color?”

“Um… actually, it is.”

“And why’s that?”

Zak, in other letters I’ve often bemoaned the lack of sound advice to be found in classical literature for picking up girls.  It turns out I’ve just been reading the wrong books all this time.  The Greek philosophers certainly didn’t let you down.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is I feel like there are some cases where we’re better off doing right than being right.  (I’m sure that sentence must be on a bumper-sticker somewhere.)  Empathy is one of those cases.

If someone asked me why I believe the people around me are conscious, I’d have a hard time justifying it.  I guess I could appeal to older philosophical systems… Descartes certainly comes to mind… but in the end it wouldn’t be a matter of precise science.

We come into this world confident in a few things…  Maybe the burden of proof lies on the side that opposes our intuition.  I honestly don’t know.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Passionately Curious

Day 81: Monday

Morning, Tim!

At work, we have this commitment to “being curious over right”. The idea here is that, rather than being committed (with ego) to a position or idea, to take on the lens of curiosity and understand why people might be coming to a different conclusion, how their background and experiences contribute to their understanding of the thought at hand.

In your last post:

You could present the most pointless and ridiculous ideas to him, and he would always dive right into them with you head first.  There wouldn’t be even a moment of hesitation to ask how worthwhile something really was.

I think there are hints of that theory in your professor’s actions. There seems to be a passionate commitment to curiosity, a keen desire to explore in order to better understand patterns, connections, ideas.

It’s curious that we have a commitment to being right. Certainly, the spot of dopamine the brain receives when being right helps. But put up mechanisms to fight our own ignorance, as if we don’t want to even explore the possibility that we aren’t right. What causes this blindness?

First, we love putting on the lens of confirmation bias. I’ve linked to the below comic before, but it’s one of my favorites so here it is again.C4C4E4A9-363E-4112-97D0-11964D9AC29F.jpg

The idea here is that we seek information that confirms what we already believe. Rather than take an objective lens, we put on blinders to information that is contrary to our existing beliefs.

Second, we don’t want our ego to be hurt. The way this pans out is our unwillingness to challenge others. We accept as fact or highly researched opinion others points of view, failing to challenge for fear of embarrassing others. Too often someone will state their point of view, perhaps more confidently than what they could otherwise back up if someone continuously asked “why”. But societal norms suggest we don’t do that to others — and likely because we would have a hard time handling that being done to us.

Third, there are elements of peer reinforcement. We fall prey to group think, choosing to go along with the crowd to balance the need for relationships and/or not have to do the hard work of thinking ourselves.

I like the idea of being curious. It’s something I look for in those I hire — people that are passionately curious to learn more, to understand how things work and why others think the way they do. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed that too. I hope we can continue to be curious.

Until tomorrow,

Zak