Swimster The Tree-Climbing Fish

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
— allegedly Einstein; probably someone else who was no Einstein

Once upon a time there was a fish named Swimster. He had wide, fluttering fins that could push him far through the water with every stroke. He had a narrow body covered in slippery fins that could glide effortlessly through the gaps in the seaweed. He had strong gills to power him along. And more than anything, he dreamed of climbing the highest tree on the beach.

Now Swimster was under no delusions. He knew that most of the successful tree-climbers on the island had hands and claws and lungs. But he had heard stories of hard work and evolution, and had faith that with the right conditions, you can become what you’re not.

funny-evolution-of-man-comic-pics

So he decided to kick his evolution into gear by enrolling in a class at Ozzie the Orangoutang’s School of Tree-Climbing. As he paddled himself onto the shore for the first days of class, edging into the crowd of primates and amphibians, he tried not to notice their judging gazes fixating on his fins.

He flopped his way across the crowd to introduce himself to Ozzie, who greeted him with raised eyebrow-ridges. “Maybe this isn’t the right place for you,” she said, holding back her laughter behind an air of gentle concern. “Have you ever thought of trying a different hobby–perhaps, the swim team?”

The worst part was that she was right. Swimster knew he would make a better swimmer–he could swim fast and far without loosing a single gill-powered breath. But swimming was something he could do in his sleep, and he was looking for a different type of thrill. He wanted to move up, and not just around. He wanted to feel the roughness of the bark and the pull of gravity, and know that he could overcome them. He wanted to reach new heights and find himself in places he never dreamed possible.

So Swimster looked Ozzie in the eye (with his left eye) and declared, “I can do anything I put my mind to!” he said. She forced an uneasy smile. She wouldn’t say he was right, but she didn’t tell him to leave either.

She didn’t tell him much at all from that point on, but he showed up every day for drills regardless. And over and over, he would dig in his fins into the palm bark to power his way up the first few inches, before sliding down to rest in a nearby puddle.

With time, the inches slowly turned into feet, even if his fins never did. He trained without paying attention to the ambient snickers of his classmates above him. Or rather, he pretended not to pay attention, as he made it his mission to prove each of them wrong. They thought that they could take one look at his fins and determine his destiny? Well he would show them what it looked like at the top of a tree.

One day, he decided, it was the day that he would make the full climb. His now-calloused fins could pull him solidly half-way up the tree before even noticed the lack of oxygen. He prayed that evolution would kick in sometime soon to take care of the non-aquatic respiration thing. In the mean time, he clenched his gills soldiered on.

He was two thirds of the way up the tree, high enough to feel the hot sun and the dry air on his scales. As the surface of his fins got drier and drier, he just gritted his nonexistent teeth and told himself that dryness makes for a firmer grip. He did his best to quiet his quivering gills, and keep both of his side-facing eyes towards the highest branches as he declared with unflinching commitment, “I’m gonna make it to the top if it kills me.”

 

 

Ticklish Spots

“Laughter is a defense mechanism,” she warned me. 

I smiled, “Yeah, it’s my favorite one!”


Ticklish spots are located in the most vulnerable parts of your body. They’re highly sensitive locations, dense with receptors for touch and pain. If you’re a particularly ticklish individual, they’re often places of tension, where thick layers of fascia wrapped around the muscles have solidified, forming adhesions. They’re the places where you could feel excruciating pain if anyone were to dig in too deep.

But few will ever get that far. A light touch on the spot will send you into a bout of laughter, a playful grin on your face as you retract away and shake the hands off of you. You complicate the job for doctors and lovers and TSA agents, but you complicate it with a smile.

And through the discomfort, all you will do is laugh and shake them off–so long as no one comes in too close and presses too hard.

Sometimes you wonder what might happen if you were to let someone keep digging through the tight spots. You would laugh more and more until you couldn’t anymore. Eventually, as they’d comb through the knotted layers of flesh, it might break up some of that scar tissue, release some of that nagging tension, un-train your convulsive reflex.

But as the blood vessels tangled up in those knots would rupture, the blood flowing to the surface, dark bruises would reveal to the world just where you can be hurt. And the unmasked pain on your face would reveal just how much.

So you remind yourself that, tight and twisted as it may be, you built up that impenetrable wall of fascia for a reason. And maybe not all knots are meant to be unraveled.

Besides, laughing is cute and releases endorphins.

Dealing With Envy: a Flowchart

Sometimes you come across a person who seems to have exactly what you’re missing (e.g. shiny hair, shiny GPA, shiny job offer, shiny boyfriend, etc.)–that (non-gender-specific) bitch!

If you’re like most people, your default reaction is to A) Hate that person, B) Hate yourself, or C) Pretend to do A while actually doing B. But there are probably more productive (or less destructive) ways to deal. Here’s a flowchart of suggestions (click to see full-sized):

flow

 

 

Philosophy Majors Run Tech Support (Part 1)

Customer: My computer has started running way too slow and I don’t know why.

TC: How does one know what is “too slow?”

C: Well, when I tried to open my email client the other day, it stalled for–

TC: How can you be sure that it is the computer? Perhaps it is your expectations that are running too fast. Or your subjective perception of time that is running too slow.

And, of course, what defines the limits of appropriate speed? Perhaps this circumstance is an exercise in patience. Because what is true patience but the willingness to accept any arrangement of events in time as it appears, without pre-attachment to one possible arrangement over another?


C: I think I’ve been hacked, and I’m concerned about having my identity stolen. The other day when I was checking my bank–

TC: Identity theft? Do you see where you’ve been mistaken?

C: Um, well sometimes I use non-secure wi-fi, and–

TC: You believed that your identity was yours to take. That it was something fixed and distinct that you could outline and contain, never infliltrated by the other voices that cross it, never molding to its present surroundings, always distinguishable from the environment in which it grew.

Some say that property is theft. By that standard, the very act of claiming your identity as your property can only described as identity theft, stealing that persona away from the surrounding world which continuously recreates and reabsorbs it in the everyday microdynamics of social exchange.


C: I’ve heard this isn’t regular tech support, so I thought I’d ask: What’s the meaning of life?

TC: Um . . . *Checks manual* Have you tried turning it off and then on aga–wait, wrong page.

 

On Tough Love For One’s Country

In certain circles, it’s popular to criticize parents for giving children participation trophies, arguing that it raises kids who are unmotivated, entitled, and too fragile to deal with criticism.

Okay, let’s go with that.* I’d like to apply that same principle from parenting to citizenship.**

Loving your country shouldn’t mean constantly showering it with empty praise. I’m not going to give America a participation trophy just for existing as America. I’m not going to give it gold stars for freedom and democracy and equality until it’s earning them.

I’m not going to say that it’s the greatest on earth at everything when it’s not. I’m not going to let it think that its current progress in handling poverty and education and healthcare are already good enough, when there’s clearly room for improvement.

I’m not going to let it develop such a fragile ego that a criticism of any of these areas is taken as disloyal. I’m not going to inflate that ego by putting down all other countries, when it could be learning from some of them.

When it gets into conflicts, I’m not going to act like its side is inherently the right one, because I care about the quality and impact of its decisions.

I love America. With tough love. I believe in it’s potential, I have high expectations, and I won’t sugarcoat the truth when its not living up to them. It can do better. I want it to do better. I want it to be better than it ever has been before.

patriot

Brilliance from SMBC


*I’m pretty sure these people are overstating the psychological impact of participation trophies, given that no kid cares about the looser prize anyway. But okay, its a convenient symbol. 

** Yeah, anthropomorphizing countries is questionable, but sorry, that’s how these metaphors work.

16 Things I Learned in 2016

Remember how I learned something in 2013, 2014, 2015? Well guess what–I did it again.

  1. “Doing it all” is kind of an overrated goal. “Doing some of it really well at a reasonable pace, and also having time to sleep, socialize, and be a person” is kind of an underrated one.
  2. Being interested in the ideas behind a field is different than enjoying the daily practice of it. Both are important if you want to be happy doing it.
    • Personally, I encounter this tension whenever I find an area of academic research super important and compelling, but realize that sitting alone in a library or in front of a computer all day makes me want to smash things. Ideally, I’d like to find ways to engage with ideas I’m interested in through practices I enjoy.
  3. Don’t trust people who always say it’s gonna be okay—it’s statistically unlikely. (Cheerleaders have a pretty bad accuracy record. So do some pollitical pundits.)
  4. Lots of people manage to have impressive careers without actually doing their jobs very well. My working theory is that whoever is mediocre the loudest and most confidently wins.
    • Or in the long-term, maybe whoever sticks around the longest wins.
  5. There is a such thing as trying too hard.
  6. Dealing with uncertainty is a skill. One that I’m going to need next year on several levels.
    • I did a lot of improv this semester, including a 15 minute piece of semistructured group improvisation on stage. In the process, I got pretty used to not knowing what situation I’m going to find myself in, but knowing that I can rely on the tools and skills I’ve developed to deal with it. And if I’m out of ideas, sometimes the best choice is to stop and look to the people around me.
  7. Ironic understatement is one of the overlooked love languages.
  8. Lots of companies/organizations project a positive/progressive image, but if you take a look at their internal practices, you might get a different picture.
  9. You know how some people gain so much academic knowledge but loose the ability to use common sense or talk in straightforward language? Or some dancers gain so much technical and performance training but loose the ability to walk naturally or dance at a party? Especially as I’m coming out of school, my goal is to make sure that whatever new/fancy/advanced skills I gain are supplementing, not replacing, whatever I had before.
  10. Half of knowing how to have a good conversation is knowing how to listen.
  11. Theories and frameworks can be useful ways to organize and understand reality. But if reality isn’t fitting your theory, you should probably rethink the theory, not the reality.
  12. People are always interpreting what they learn–news, history, other people–through the lens of narratives they already know. Sometimes that makes us ignore the people and events that don’t fit the pre-established narratives.
    • And if your reality doesn’t fit the dominant narrative, it’s a good opportunity to get an alternative narrative out into the world.
  13. One way to deal with feeling misunderstood is to get better at explaining yourself.
  14. Multiple famous/cool people died this year, but there are also lots of cool people still alive. We can appreciate those people too.
  15. Most things described as “it’s complicated” and “it’s a long story” can actually be summed up in one sentence.
  16. It’s been three years, and I’m still not sure what this blog is about.