A Taste of History

A Taste of History

I first tasted absinthe in 2003.

I’d heard about it well before then, but stumbled upon an article about it. The article made it sound like it was a drug — a stigma the drink carries to this day.

“You’ll Trip Balls, Right?”

Here’s the thing: absinthe doesn’t make you hallucinate. The thujone in grand wormwood contains no trippy properties. I won’t go into great detail, here, but absinthe suffered from two issues back in the day: shoddy production by some producers and a smear campaign by the wine industry. (Absinthe was (and sometimes still is) distilled with a grape-based spirit. During a grape shortage, the wine industry suffered and set out to make absinthe sound like the drink of mad men…leading to a ban on the drink in the early 1900s. It didn’t hurt that substances used to dye cheap absinthe often contained harmful compounds that really did drive some people mad…in the same way that eating lead paint chips wasn’t a good idea.)

But enough history…

In the past 15 years or so, absinthe has made a comeback. It’s now legal in the United States. You can buy it in most liquor stores (varying qualities). If you want a good absinthe, I recommend anything made by Ted Breaux for his Jade line.

The neat thing about Breaux’s absinthes? He’s a chemist and distiller, and he created his line by working backwards from samples of vintage absinthes. I can now say with confidence that he got it right!

Sample bottle: 1890-1900 Pernod Fils Absinthe

Pernod Fils (Circa 1890-1900)

For years, I’ve been on a mailing list for someone who finds vintage spirits…with a heavy focus on absinthe. And for years, I could never justify the price of samples sold when a few bottles are discovered from the pre-ban years before absinthe was outlawed in various countries between 1910-1914.

Recently, I set aside some money and told myself, “If a pre-ban bottle of Pernod Fils is found this spring, I’m jumping on it!” And ‘lo, a pre-ban bottle was discovered and broken into samples. (The bottle above.)

Isn’t It Supposed To Be Green?

If you watched Moulin Rouge, you might think that absinthe is a neon green drink that summons fairies. (I do love that movie, even though the absinthe depiction is quite off.)

Most modern, traditionally made absinthes are green in the same way olive oil is green. It’s not a bright green, but it’s definitely green. (Although some absinthes are more of a straw color, while others are absolutely clear.) So why isn’t the sample below green?

Over time, the chlorophyll that gives absinthe its green hue degrades, taking on the color of a dead leaf. (Fuille morte.) Sometimes the flavor changes, becoming more earthy; other times, the taste does what many other spirits and wines do with time: they blend and end up more full and rounded.

We took a sip of the straight sample, and right away — it tasted like some absinthes that have already been diluted with water and sugar. It was sweet and full and creamy. (Damn, it was good!)

Of course, we had to go the traditional route.

Before the louche: 1890-1900 Pernod Fils Absinthe

How Do You Serve Absinthe?

If you see someone set a sugar cube above a glass of absinthe on fire, don’t drink it. It’s probably a crappy absinthe served in a party atmosphere. I really don’t care how others drink something they pay for (I know someone who drowns Islay malt scotches in ice; makes me cringe, but he’s free to do with what he buys), but I’ve heard a lot of people say, “I HATE absinthe! “… only to find they drank swill that wasn’t even absinthe.

Traditionally, absinthe is served by dripping or slowly pouring very cold water into the drink. Depending on the absinthe and one’s taste, the drip is often over a sugar cube on a slotted spoon resting on the glass. (The sugar dissolves, taking an edge off the bitterness of wormwood the drink can have.)

For this drink, we used no sugar. Only ice water from the fountain we’ve had for almost 15 years.

Ice water in the absinthe fountain

The Louche

With the introduction of water, absinthe gets hazy, until turning opaque. This effect is called a louche. (Ouzo and some other spirits containing anise and fennel also louche.)

With the louche, the aromas open up, leaving the room smelling so fragrant.

The louche: 1890-1900 Pernod Fils Absinthe

Splashing drop in absinthe: 1890-1900 Pernod Fils Absinthe

What Does It Taste Like?

A lot of people say, “Absinthe tastes like black licorice!”

I’ve never seen it that strong. It’s more like fennel: a subdued licorice flavor, mixed with a taste of hay dust on the roof on your mouth. It tastes like fields and hills and summer distilled to its essence. It’s a very refreshing drink that some people I know who hate black licorice find pleasant. It’s big and herbal and wonderful!

(I was the kid who always took everybody’s black licorice, so I probably like it even more. I wrote a little bit about the flavor here.)

What Did This Glass Taste Like?

In a blind taste test, I’m guessing most people who have consumed good absinthe would say it tastes a lot like the absinthes Ted Breaux makes. Not quite as earthy — the floral qualities winning out over the taste of distant hay fields and wormwood. It was creamier — and the flavor lingered much longer than any other absinthe I’ve tasted.

The neat taste was sublime; truly one of the best taste experiences of my life. I wanted to drink it straight — and with its high alcohol content, it didn’t have a huge attack in that sip. The astringent qualities seemed subdued and stronger at the same time. Once water was added, it was much like some of the better modern absinthes.

But I didn’t buy enough for two glasses for just the taste…

A Taste of History

As I drank the glass, I thought about the region where it was distilled. I wondered whose hands grew and harvested the herbs used in the drink — and who was responsible for distilling the bottle. (The bottle this sample was drawn from.) I wondered where other bottles from that distilling run went: who drank them — and are there any others still out there in a cellar somewhere?

Even had this drink not lived up to my taste expectations, it would have been worth it, just to imbibe something that was distilled somewhere between 1890 and 1900. Splitting the dates, today I drank 120-year-old absinthe, and it was worth every friggin’ cent I paid for it!

Drinking 1890-1900 Pernod Fils Absinthe

In Defense of Kanye West

In Defense of Kanye West

I preface this by saying I know very little about Kanye West (much like many of those still criticizing him halfway into the week after the Grammy Awards). Were it not for social media and 24-hour news organizations blowing up many issues that aren’t deserving of time and space, I would only know Kanye West as the guy who was picked as the background music for what I consider the greatest juggling video ever made:

But still…as arrogant, rude, or whatever people want to say Kanye is for approaching the stage as Beck accepted his Grammy (and for flat-out interrupting Taylor Swift as she received a Grammy a handful of years ago), it seems silly that people who I often see complaining, “That’s not real news!” online…are still fuming about something that’s not “real” news well into the week.


Lots of musicians are/were arrogant. Most of the people I see complaining are middle aged and older. If you like the Who…you do realize Keith Moon was far more arrogant than Kanye could ever hope to be, don’t you? In fact, popular music has always, to some extent, been based on shock value and arrogance.

While I am no longer the obnoxious person I once was, ask any close friend who knew me in my 20s: I was one of the most annoying people on the planet! I was fascinated by how easy it was to get to people and — on some level — I took perverse pleasure in being incredibly annoying. It amazed me that adults could let someone get to them so easily. Coming from that place myself, I know — had I been in a band that received any kind of attention — that I would have said and probably done all kinds of stupid/shocking things, just to get a rise out of people. So I have to think there’s a side of Kanye that thinks, “I’m going to tell everyone that I’m the best musician ever, they will all come unhinged, and I will laugh that it’s really that simple to stay in the limelight…”

By getting so worked up about his Grammys antics, people are playing into exactly what he hopes for; which, of course, ensures he will keep doing it.

Why does he do it? He does it because he knows his harshest critics almost crave the self-righteous rage as much as he enjoys the attention.

What I Learned About Kanye

I’ve heard people this week talk about how stupid and greedy Kanye West is. From what I’ve seen, he’s not. (But hey, it’s easy to say a black rapper is dumb, right?) Doing a little research, he got As and Bs throughout his education. He lived in China when he was younger — and it sounds like he adapted rather well to the situation (a sign of intelligence), despite how different it was. (He even learned Chinese, which I understand isn’t an easy language to learn.)

His mother was the Chair of the English department for a college and always encouraged Kanye to read and write.

He has created charitable foundations and given money and time to many causes [From Wikipedia]: “fundraisers, benefit concerts, and has done community work for Hurricane Katrina relief, the Kanye West Foundation, the Millions More Movement, 100 Black Men of America, a Live Earth concert benefit, World Water Day rally and march, Nike runs, and a MTV special helping young Iraq War veterans who struggle through debt and PTSD a second chance after returning home.”

I wonder how much time and money his critics have given to causes? I’m guessing, with maybe a few exceptions, it pales in comparison to what Kanye has given to others.

Like him or not, he sounds like he has a lot of decency inside, despite his occasional interruptions on stage at the Grammys.

His Musical Talents and Tastes

I’ve also heard people say Kanye is a no-talent hack with no taste in music. [Again, I’m pulling from Wikipedia, so some of this may have changed (by the list of bands, it sounds like it was written a few years ago).]

Here are some of the bands Kanye West cites as influences:

Franz Ferdinand, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Killers, Keane, Radiohead, Kaiser Chiefs, Modest Mouse, Coldplay, U2, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. He’s collaborated with Santigold, Peter Bjorn and John, Lykke Li, and Bon Iver.

Hardly a thug influenced by other thugs.

More than that, he used to feature indie bands on his website daily (he still might), hoping to shine some light on obscure acts. He’s also worked with Israeli violinist Miri Ben-Ari and, for a time, he was the only current pop star touring with a string section (employing an eleven-piece orchestra).

I won’t even go into the list of bands and albums he’s produced — it’s a big list. Even if the music isn’t your thing, producing music that makes millions — even if some of it is formulaic — is not an easy task.

Many of the people I’ve seen criticizing Kanye this week are the same people who say — with a sweeping hand — that all hip-hop and rap is terrible. (Hardly the case.) It seems Kanye has much wider and better taste in music than many of his critics.

“Are You REALLY Defending Him?”

Does all this mean I think Kaybe’s a saint, or justified in rushing people accepting awards? Nope! It’s arrogant and douchey. (Although, behind-the-scenes, I would not be surprised to find him laughing with close friends about how easy it is to get a rise out of people.) But again…it’s the music industry, and when we look at others, what he’s doing pales in comparison. [I’m using acts in the next example that the critics I’ve seen in my social media feeds seem to like.]:

Is Kanye rushing a stage and being an asshat really worse than death, molestation, and extreme racism?

You All Made Me Like Him More Than I Did Before

I really know very little about Kanye West and his music. I’m not going to rush out and buy the guy’s music, but I am going to chuckle with how easy it is for him to get attention. I like hip-hop and rap, but since I really only listen to music while writing, I prefer instrumental work because lyrics can distract me.

I suppose I’m just fascinated by how riled up people are about all this. By seeing it mentioned so much in social media feeds, I actually looked up some stuff about him and like Kanye West more than I did before everyone got mad this time around. If he really is as dumb and talentless as people claim, what does that say about those he can play so easily?

Take it from me, who used to love annoying people: the best thing you can do to one craving so much attention is to simply not give it to them…especially when they are screaming out for it.

The Most Important Thing I Read All Year

The Most Important Thing I Read All Year

I usually don’t ask the people who follow the things I do online to do things for me. I feel that content is a gift, and if I’m creating it in the hope that it will ultimately benefit me — at the very least — I should be honest enough to say, “I’m only doing this for myself/I’m doing this mostly for myself.”

It’s been my goal since starting The Juggling Writer, the Men in Gorilla Suits podcast, and my personal blog that I simply share thoughts and things that have worked for me in the hope some of that becomes something meaningful to somebody who reads it.

The feeling right now for readers may be, “Oh, Christopher is going to ask us to buy his e-books or listen to a podcast, but nope — I’m going to ask you to take the time (five minutes) to read one thing very deeply…and it’s not even something I wrote!

Graham Joyce

Graham Joyce wrote books and other things. And, like another writer who died this past year (Jay Lake), he wrote about cancer. Not the happiest thing to perhaps think about on the turning of a new year, but I can think of no better day to read one of the last things Jay Graham wrote than on the day we say goodbye to the year that’s gone and look forward to what’s ahead.

Joyce’s final blog entry before dying was A Perfect Day and the Shocking Clarity of Cancer. Those last three very short paragraphs are beautiful. (Don’t rob yourself and just jump there, read them, and think, “Yeah, I guess that’s nice…” Read the entire piece slowly to see how it all comes together…because it’s at that point this piece matters most.)

I’ve seen a lot of people talking about how they’re glad this year is done and what they look forward to in 2015.

I think the best thing anyone reading this can do is carry the sentiment in the final words of this piece — of this author — into a new year…

My Favorite Podcasts

My Favorite Podcasts

If you know me, you know that I do a weekly podcast with a friend called Men in Gorilla Suits. Men in Gorilla Suits is a [sometimes] philosophical look at pop culture. (Sometimes we’re anything but philosophical.) I also have a novel out as a podcast, which also hangs out at Podiobooks.com.

But I don’t just make podcasts — I also listen to a handful regularly. (Since I pay the bills writing, I can’t really listen to as many podcasts as I’d like because I can’t listen to people talk while writing. Also, my commute is only 10 minutes each way to work, and I work from home half the time. So when I listen to podcasts, it’s time dedicated solely for listening — there is no multitasking involved.)

Someone recently asked me what I listened to, so I figured I’d share.

My Favorite Podcasts

Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project podcastStill Untitled: The Adam Savage Project

This is one of the podcasts I will drop things for to listen to. It’s not just because I’ve watched a lot of Mythbusters in the past…I just love people who make things — and Adam, Norm, and Will make things.

But it’s much more than that. For me, the people behind the show not only make things…but they talk about travel, reading, and so much more.

Even if you don’t like Mythbusters, give it a try. The only podcast that’s ever made me think, “Yeah, I would pay for the premium content for this…”

Favorite Episode(s):

Getting On with James Urbaniak podcastGetting On with James Urbaniak

If you do not know who James Urbaniak is…FOR SHAME!!! Just kidding! (Not really.)

James is the voice of Dr. Thaddeus Venture in The Venture Bros. More than that, you may have seen him in things you watch and love (and not even known it).

I cannot even describe the brilliance. It’s so brilliant, you might argue with me that it’s brilliant at all (bearing in mind that I am 6′ 3″ and built like a defensive tackle). But seriously: brilliant!

Favorite Episode(s):

A Tiny Sense of AccomplishmentA Tiny Sense of Accomplishment podcast

Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter write like badasses. And I am sooooooooo grateful for the mighty Lisa Eckstein for recently telling me about this podcast…that’s fast become an all-time fave!

You want readings of works in progress — you’ve got it! You want funny commentary about everyday life — it’s there. Interviews with cool, creative people? They have that covered.

Really, there’s nothing bad I can say about this podcast. It might be one of the few that, at times, reaches the level of all-time best things ever recorded. Yes, it’s THAT good!

Favorite Episode(s):

Cheston, Applied Science, and Star Anna (Jess Walters reading “Cheston” would make this worth PAYING for…and you get it FREE!!! That line about 20-year-old scotch is wonderful!)

Psalms, Spokane, Stusser, and Seeping Gunk (I really DO like Sherman Alexie, but Jess Walter’s poem about Trader Joe’s is the star of this episode.)

Jess Walter Is Taking His Talents to the Grave, With Special Guest John Sirois

Nerdist podcastThe Nerdist

In the nerd world/geek world (listen to the episode with Wired’s Chris Anderson for a discussion about nerd vs. geek), being there first counts to some. I do not hold that philosophy, but if I did — I win against MOST Nerdist listeners.

While unemployed, I discovered this podcast on its second episode (the one with Drew Carey). I don’t think there’s a podcast I’ve listened to more.

I’ll go ahead and say it: one of the few podcasts that’s brought me to tears it’s so touching at times. The ONLY podcast that’s made me tear up from laughter AND sentiment in the same show. Truly one of the best, even though it’s now big and Hardwick has a media empire (and in some geek circles, that means I must now hate it…but I never will).

Favorite Episode(s) (HOW CAN I CHOOSE JUST ONE?!?!?!):

  • Drew Carey (The one that started it all for me!)
  • Rob Zombie (Think you multitask? Think again!)
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt (When JGL realizes this isn’t a normal press interview, it becomes a beautiful talk.)
  • Andy Serkis (Want to learn what being different and working hard can get you? Listen!)
  • Grant Morrison (When he talks about Superman…damn!)
  • Mike Mignola (One of the all-around best talks about doing your thing I’ve ever heard!)
  • Billy West (What can you learn from a voice actor about ANYTHING you are doing, no matter what it is? More than you can probably imagine!)
  • Billy Hardwick (Chris Hardwick interviews his father. A beautiful episode.)

On Being podcastOn Being

If you know me, you know I’m an atheist. Solidly…all my life. There has never been a time (nor will there ever be a time) that I believe in a god of any sort.

But I’m not a dick about it.

On Being is definitely spiritual at times, but it’s also beautiful. Just as I’m not a dick about atheism, I don’t mind people talking about faith…as long as they aren’t dicks about it. On Being does that well…and more times than not, it’s just about reflective moments we can all love — no matter what we believe (or don’t believe).

Favorite Episode(s):

OtherPpl podcastOtherppl with Brad Listi

If you like reading and authors, you should be listening!

I can’t describe what I love about this podcast, other than it’s like when The Nerdist interviews authors without the trademark Nerdist stuff. That may or may not make sense to you, and it is praise for both shows.

Definitely one of the better podcasts out there interviewing authors.

Favorite Episode(s) (Some of he best interviews (Jim Lynch, George Saunders, and Susan Orlean) require a premium account. But still…):

  • Robin Sloan (Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. I’ve read that last page over 100 times! Seriously! I just got up and read it again. It’s THAT good!)
  • Dan Chaon (I would not mind being Dan Chaon for a day.)
  • Austin Kleon

Evolution Talk podcastEvolution Talk

A recent edition (because it’s a relatively new podcast), Rick Coste’s Evolution Talk has quickly become my favorite new podcast. I put it up there with A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment. It’s that good.

One of the few scripted podcasts I’ll listen to (think “being there,” instead of just being talked at), Coste does such a damn good job with this podcast that it’s almost ridiculous! (And his output of other shows and videos will make even a productive person feel puny!)

The production of this show is wonderful; the way it’s presented makes one think of the potential for the medium.

(Oh yeah…Rick also does Philosophy Walk, which is also mighty impressive. He might be the only podcaster I’d follow into battle!)

Favorite Episode(s):

Grammar Girl podcastGrammar Girl

Mignon Fogarty is kinda badass.

I make a living writing, and have for some time, and these short podcasts always leave me thinking about better writing.

You might think, “But I’m not a writer.” If you wrote even one email or posted on a social network in the last week, you need to listen to this show!

Favorite Episode(s):

Too many! Just go to the site!

Freakonomics podcastFreakonomics

I heard the podcast before watching the documentary.

The documentary made me realize these guys think in some really cool ways. (Even when I have an opposing view, I love the way they lay things out.)

You can say this is about economics, but it’s really a show about how humans look at…everything. With something that solid, how can you not listen?

Favorite Episode(s):

Like Grammar Girl, there are too many to list. Just hit the archives and have at it!

Intro Machine podcastIntro Machine | Building Better Podcasts

Another newer podcast. I met Ian at Podcast Movement 2014, and he was torn between a couple shows.

When he mentioned Intro Machine, I — and others waiting for a session at the conference to start — told him that Intro Machine sounded great!

We were not wrong…

Favorite Episode(s):

They’re short, so just listen. (I like the How to Make a Thing episode…but really, all of them are good. And there’s a bit more than sound at the end of each episode that makes the show about more than just production.)

The Gary Leland Show podcastThe Gary Leland Show

Gary Leland is a cool guy. Seriously.

Gary started selling blinds door-to-door in the 80s, and in the earlier part of the 90s…sold wallpaper ONLINE…when everyone told him it was a dumb move. It wasn’t, and Gary now has his own little entrepreneurial empire (that really leans toward fast-pitch softball. Seriously)

I shy away from entrepreneurs interviewing entrepreneurs, but Gary makes even talks with people I’m not too fond of something worth listening to. And you would be hard-pressed to meet a cooler, more genuine person. Gary’s the real deal, and I would say that even if he wasn’t a friend.

Favorite Episode(s):

Cash Car Convert podcastCash Car Convert

I’m kind of stubborn when it comes to reading and thinking about money. I read Your Money or Your Life, and I was good. (Full disclosure: I have not read the version I linked to, and the book can be sumarized like this: figure out what your time is worth for every hour of your life…and decide if that 2.5 hours in traffic and business travel and time away from all you would rather be doing is really worth it!)

James Kinson is one of those truly good people…so I’m glad he has a podcast. It’s about much more than buying used cars/driving your existing car for a decade or more to put your money elsewhere. It’s about finances, but it’s also about being decent and living a good life.

Like On Being mentioned above, it’s one of a few podcasts that I don’t turn off when it gets more spiritual. It’s always with purpose, and I can see the parallels in the life I live. James is just a mighty good person! (And yes, I know him…but knowing him does not change that one bit.)

Favorite Episode(s):

Podcasts I’ve Listened to (and Mean to Listen to More Regularly)

Radiolab podcastRadiolab

A good friend told me to listen to an episode with They Might Be Giants.

Other friends have told me to listen.

Hell, Laura Mills mentioned the show in this blog entry, and I am convinced you will not find a more intelligent and reflective Millennial on the planet! So…I need to listen more!

Favorite Episode(s):

It Might Be Science

This American Life podcastThis American Life

Psst…Maybe you’ve heard about this show :)

Maybe you saw this video about how to listen to podcasts.

This is one of those shows that people will miss decades down the line when Ira Glass is no longer around. I don’t know why I go through periods of not listening, and then consuming like a fiend…

Favorite Episode(s):

WTF with Marc Maron podcastWTF With Marc Maron

Sure, you can say, “He’s crass,” or whatever you want…but Marc Maron is rather badass.

I read fiction because I want real, and I love that Maron freely admits that he was a complete asshole in so many ways in his past.

More than that, I love that his redemption came as one of the podcasters out there to pave the way for the rest of us. Like him or not, those of us podcasting will probably never have the success Maron’s made for himself. For that reason alone, his interviews are worth listening to.

Favorite Episode(s):

Remembering Robin Williams (A beautiful interview)

Skate to Create podcastSkate to Create

What if I told you a small group of skaters thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a business podcast…that focused on skate culture and how that led to entrepreneurs making a living doing what they love within skateboarding?”

You might think, “I’m not sure about that…”

Regardless of where you stand, this is one of the most genuine and focused shows I’ve heard about turning what you love into a business.

Favorite Episode(s):

The Starters Club podcastThe Starters Club

Confession: I would go as far as saying I loathe with the passion of 10,000,000 white-hot suns podcasts with an entrepreneur interviewing other entrepreneurs.

I mostly feel that way because it all comes off like a big friggin’ circle jerk, with “Entrepreneur A” interviewing “Entrepreneur B,” whom every other “Entrepreneur” has interviewed 20-times over already. It all sounds the same, and the industry it’s spawned is even worse than the shows feeding the beast!

Erin Smith is actually an entrepreneur. She’s not just saying, “I’m en entrepreneur,” because she has a podcast — she has a podcast because she’s started several successful businesses. Sure, they may not be the kinds of things I want to do, but between her weekly tips and interviews, I can see how what she talks about can apply to being a full time writer.

Favorite Episode(s):

Compassion Plans podcastCompassion Plans

I like genuine things.

The handful of episodes of Compassion Plans I’ve listened to are genuine.

That alone makes it one of the shows I go to when I’m done with my absolutely must-listen-to shows!

Favorite Episode(s):

How to Disrupt Compassionately with Evo Terra

Marketing is Compassion with Tad Hargrave

Running Over the Debt Monster with James Kinson


Some Thoughts about Superstition and Panic

Some Thoughts about Superstition and Panic

Every time I fly — as I step aboard the plane — I say to myself, “This is the plane I’m going to die on.”

Not because I believe that; rather, because I don’t.

I’ve mentioned that I do this to some people and they were absolutely appalled that I’d do such a thing…that I was somehow tempting fate. Worse, that with a mere thought…I am putting hundreds of lives in danger each time I fly.

And yet, each time I fly, I land safely.

But What If…

Now that I’ve shared this information, if I’m ever on a plane that does not land safely, people can say, “It’s all his fault. Had he simply not tempted fate, all those people would be alive…”

What gets me about superstition is that it’s a one-way street. By saying to myself, “This is the plane I’m going to die on,” each time I fly, people who believe ridiculous things (it is ridiculous to think that my mere thought can bring down a plane) are allowed to say, “See?!” should the incredibly remote possibility that I die in a plane crash occur. But yet, if I live to be 100 and say to the same people, “So…gonna admit you’re wrong and have let fear dictate your life?” there’s always an excuse.

You didn’t fly enough…

Somebody prayed harder than your thoughts…

It will catch up with you in some other way…

Planes Do Not Crash Because of Thoughts

A good friend took a flight in a small plane as a teenager because he thought flying would be cool. The plane crashed, and he was the only survivor.

Many would say, “That’s a warning to never fly again!”

Others might say, “Well, he got his crash out of the way…he’s safe to fly.” (As though we all get a plane crash or two in our lives.)

Those of the latter mindset might even go as far as saying that in all the flights this friend has taken that the reason he’s survived is because he crashed and lived on his very first flight.

All these thoughts would be rather insulting. This friend was recently certified to fly the 787 Dreamliner. To attribute an experience that happened on his very first flight to his success as a pilot is silly. Worse: to think for a moment that me thinking, “This is the plane I’m going to die on,” can negate all the years of training pilots go through is insulting to the profession.

Even worse than that, I’m sure there are people out there, who — if they read this blog entry — would hope I die on a plane just to prove their point.

Superstition is a powerful thing, and it doesn’t surprise me that many people I know who are very superstition are also prone to panic.

OMG, It’s The Ebola! Run Away!!!

I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. If you’ve watched the news, recently, you know that Ebola is running out of control in the area and this will be the last thing I ever write! (At least if you stay glued to the news or some social media feeds, you might think like that.)

In early September, I logged out of Facebook to take a break until I’m done with the novel I’m currently writing. (And also to make sure I was away during election season, when all that I dislike about Facebook seems even more amplified.)

I woke up early this morning and wandered to the living room. I don’t watch the news, but I turned it on. The general message seemed to be: “OH MY GOD, THIS IS AN EPIDEMIC!!!” followed by, “don’t panic!!!”

I’ve seen very little mention of Ebola on my Google Plus, Tumblr, and Twitter feeds. A confession: I logged into Facebook this morning.


The number of posts about Ebola was staggering. Worse: looking at the posts of some of the more superstitious people I know…it would almost be funny if it weren’t so sad. One person telling a friend in the area: “MOVE NOW! GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN!” Not as a joke — this was said in all seriousness, and it was followed by, “Of course, that may not matter — it will be everywhere soon.”

I saw somebody saying it’s the government…that they want to reduce the population by 95%. Again, said in all seriousness by a normally superstitious person.

The best: links to places saying, “Take these vitamins to be safe, and stock up on all this gear for when it gets bad!” Conveniently, the sites people were getting their “real facts about Ebola” from just-so-happen to also sell the specials vitamins and gear that will make you one of the lone survivors of the Ebolapocalypse.

Comment after comment like that; people feeding into fear.

(I didn’t even have the courage to gaze at the feeds of people I’ve hidden.)

A Prediction

I do not believe in psychics, but I’ll make a prediction based on reason: I will not die in a plane crash.

I’ll make another prediction: the United States will not crumble under Ebola’s grip.

Let’s go for three: President Obama will not impose martial law followed by Sharia law before the 2016 elections to stay in power, no matter what your favorite conspiracy “news” website says.

And that’s what gets me about superstition and panic: none of these things will happen. The people who fear these things, however, will not say, “Huh? None of those things I truly believed would happen actually happened. Maybe I shouldn’t be so superstitious and afraid.”

Instead, they will go on to the next scary thing and continue to be angry when people point out just how ridiculous it all is.

Look Up, Down, or Not at All

Look Up, Down, or Not at All

Do you remember the Look Up video?

Now I’ve been seeing Can We Auto-Correct Humanity shared quite a bit:

They are well-done videos…that seem to assume a lot about people and the way they use technology.

Yes, My Phone is Out

If you see my wife and me having coffee and tea and our phones are out, you’d be wrong to assume we are a couple that doesn’t communicate.

After work, the first thing we usually do is sit on the couch and talk…sometimes for hours. We walk most days, and on those walks we either talk or walk in silence. But if we’re getting coffee and tea, you’ll usually see us with our phones out and scrawling in notebooks and talking. When we get coffee and tea, they are usually times when we have agreed to talk about webpages and plans, so yes: phones come out as we look up information.

Technology is Not the Problem

We dedicated an episode of the weekly podcast I do to technology. We definitely talked about how we know some people who cannot go very long at all without bringing out their phone and looking at social media, texting, and things like that. But we also discussed that the problem is not technology (or even the people using the technology).

The Problem is Our Own Perception

If I see a couple in a restaurant on their phones, I don’t know why they aren’t talking to each other. It’s presumptuous of me to assume they can’t go ten minutes without checking their phones.

I don’t know if they are visiting the area and looking up directions to their next stop, or if some family thing is going on and they are keeping track of a situation. I don’t know if they are on the verge of separating and they are looking at things from their lawyers. But I do know this: humans are good at looking at a couple with their phones out at dinner and amplifying that. Suddenly, a handful of people looking at their phones at a restaurant becomes, “I went out to eat and everyone was on their phones! Nobody communicates face-to-face anymore — we’re doomed!”

When I go to restaurants, the majority of people I see are still talking to each other with their phones put up. To say things like, “No one communicates face to face anymore!” would mean restaurants and other places people meet up would be disappearing at an alarming rate.

I live in a small town, but if you see a new building going up — chances are — it’s a restaurant. People are meeting face-to-face probably more than any other time in history.

Another Thing We Do Not Consider

I know a lot of reclusive people. For whatever reason, they are not the biggest fans of face-to-face communication. For these people, social media and other things puts them in touch with people who have similar interests, even though it’s not face-to-face over dinner or in a living room. Is that any less real than trying to talk to someone in a loud restaurant or bar?

And let’s not forget all the people who are alone or disabled, and how being online — for the first time ever — has provided millions with the ability to communicate and finally be heard.

Maybe that person on SnapChat is sharing a story with someone who cannot get out. I know I will never see all the places I want to see before I die, so friends sharing their travels online allows me to at least get a taste of a place…and when I travel, I try to share for the same reason.

The Assumption

There is a big assumption in these videos…that, when I see someone post a photo of their new, big house (and I’m writing this in a tiny room that doubles as storage space in a small apartment) it makes me feel bad about myself. But it doesn’t — I’m always happy for my friends. (Hell, even people I don’t particularly like who have nice things…good for them!)

I know, I know…there are studies that show some see people posting about their good fortune as bragging, but guess what: there were jealous people long before social media came along! Those kinds people will always see everything as an attack against them and all they believe they don’t have…and it doesn’t matter if it’s seen online or in person.

What is Wrong with You

Really, it comes down to this for me: how is that person on their phone in a public place hurting me or society to the point that I have any right to judge their use of their device? Sure, if you play Words with Friends hours a day and complain to me about how you don’t have time to write, I’m going to laugh in your face and tell you the time is there if you want it to be there. But if a person wants to play games on their phone for hours each day, more power to them! It’s not my place to tell others how to live their lives, and even more — it’s quite presumptuous for me to say, “What’s right for me is how you must live your life as well!”

I don’t watch much TV, but I don’t care if you do. I don’t play video games, but I don’t care if you do. I don’t go to clubs and bars and stand around nodding at acquaintances, but I don’t care if you do.

(And if we have the right to say, “This is how you must use technology!” then everyone reading this should turn off all push notifications on their phones. Turn off all sound — even the vibrate feature. Only look at messages, email, and other things when you’ve blocked out time to do so. That’s what I do, and I now expect you to do the same!)

If You See Me On My Phone

I am a writer. I love solitude. The last thing I would want to do in a long line is pull out my phone and distract myself when I could be thinking. I rarely listen to music while driving (or even at home) because I’m usually thinking about stories and where I want to take them. Chances are, I spend more time thinking about things than you do — I live inside my head.

I also love people. I’m the guy who gets along with the weird person you talk poorly about when meeting with friends face-to-face. I’ve picked up hitchhikers and spent time talking to homeless people most others just pass by. I meet up with friends face-to-face, and phones stay put away. All that, and I still spend a lot of time online.

I make no distinction between the online world and the “real world.” It’s all real to me. I’d put money down that I’ve had some deeper conversations about writing and other things online than you’ve had during face-to-face meetups where you’ve fumed about people who spend too much time on their phones.

If you see me on my phone, feel free to think, “Oh, there’s another person who can’t avoid looking at Facebook!” or, “Why can’t someone just enjoy a view without taking a photo?!” Feel free to say to yourself (or to your friends), “That’s just like the Look Up and the Can We Auto-Correct Humanity videos.”

You’d be wrong, but you’re free to think what you want.

Meanwhile, when I am on my phone, it’s with purpose — and I’m probably being far more productive in that moment than you are getting bent out of shape that society has lost another person to a tiny screen.