Good Criminal Bad Criminal

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Anyone who grows up with some privilege ends up learning some form of accepted morals. Somewhere in that set of morals and guidelines are clear-cut rules on good and evil. Because, in contrast to laws,  most rules and mores tend to be vague, there often are numerous sweeping generalizations made toward crime. But what if a life of crime is the only thing that can feed, clothe and shelter you?

Recently, I’ve been watching Better Call Saul, the spinoff to Breaking Bad. Both of the protagonists in these shows eventually settle into criminality that inevitably affords them their own American dreams. Of course, neither James McGill nor Walter White needs to support themselves with a life of crime.  James is adept at assessing and exploiting weaknesses to a point that it’s the easiest way for him to achieve his goals, while Walt is initially desperate to save himself from cancer and pay off his bills.

What if, much like James McGill, your strength comes in the form of finding and exploiting weaknesses. Much of what he gets up to and many of the things similar people would get up to are morally dubious. Alternatively, if those abilities are your calling, then why ignore them?

Given that Better Call Saul deals with lawyers, it isn’t lost on the viewers that there are tangible ways to find and exploit weaknesses that are legal and lucrative. Unfortunately, becoming an attorney is not possible for everyone. Furthermore, doing something that is legal but necessarily nefarious won’t stop your guilty conscience.

So what would you do if your abilities endear you to seedier parts of life, and what happens if that life riddles you with guilt? Do you sit quiet, give up on your potential, and live a regular life? Would that regular life make you happy? All you can do is assess your own life and give chase.

In the wise words of Richard Feynman, the first rule is that you must not fool yourself and that you are the easiest to fool. Good luck.

 

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Another Life

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I started reading The Great Gatsby a few days ago. A day before I started F. Scott FItzgerald’s opus, I finished reading The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. Out of pure coincidence, both novels are about life stories and lifestyles that are far different from my own. Both stories are great at delivering incite into microcosms of modern society that seem unbelievable. Gatsby digs into the workings of upper-class American society, and The Other Wes Moore informs the reader of the struggle of Americans in poverty.

You can’t really run away from the past. And much like a snowglobe, you can shake it up but you can’t jump into it and relive it. What’s done is done, you have let go and move on. Yet, as easy as those words are to write, they are definitely not easy to follow.

For one, the working world has a great way of reminding you of your checkered past. Forgiveness is in short supply when it comes to shady resumes. Furthermore, there is an inverse relationship between the people who see your shadow and the people who are able to forget it. Such is the brutality of our human brains and selfish hearts.

Both books also happen to show the dark side of the question, “If you had a chance would you take it?” Victory is sweet, but the sugar doesn’t last forever. Sometimes it won’t even taste like sugar. Perhaps it’s best, especially when looking back at our pasts with rose-colored glasses, to deny ourselves the reward and accept that with every little shake the snow globe becomes less alluring.

Life, after all, only goes one way.

On Dreaming

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Every shining star is a dream that’s out of reach. Perhaps that’s why they’re so numerous. Then again, that line isn’t literal. Ha.

Shoot for the stars cause you might hit the moon. You hear that expression, and its variants all the time. No, this isn’t going to turn into a cynical George Carlin routine about the American Dream. But really, what do you do when your plans go awry?

As far as dreamers go, others often combat the dreamers by telling them to be realistic. Great. What if realism doesn’t pay the rent? Then were your ambitions any better or worse than settling?

Such is the dilemma of adulthood. On one hand, you, me, and everyone else on the planet would love to do something fulfilling. We all want a career we love, so to speak, and we all put a high cost on that career. “I don’t have that kind of money, education, talent, etc. to take the risk,” we say. Funny enough, someone is saying that same thing about the job you do have.

Somehow, adulthood culminates to being grateful for what you got, but also constantly aspiring for more. Maybe we all share the same hope that, through some miracle, those two worlds will unite and give us something special.

Hope moves us forward, and grace picks us up when we fall. Each and every time. Gotta try to keep both of those tanks full.

Communication Breakdown

 

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Communicating with one another, as with other aspects of life, has a great way of being more difficult than it needs to be. Part of that can be chalked up to our mental, and biological wiring. The devices we use to communicate also contribute to the confusion. People whom you must communicate with and the reasons why you must communicate with them are the biggest contributors to our confusion.

For around twenty-six years of my life, I believed that people who were in their twenties, thirties, and so on,  who didn’t feel like talking to their parents, brothers, or other relatives were immature. Is that a damning, and judgemental thought? Yeah, definitely. Is it correct? Rarely.

A handful of my acquaintances in their late twenties are having issues communicating with their parents. Some have always had these issues. For others, it’s a relatively new occurrence. One of my friends, who has the largest issue among my other friends, has tried everything. Hell, his parents and his brother have tried everything too. Thus far nothing has worked.

Having known the family for so long, it’s incredibly easy for me to see every side of the issue. His problems, along with my own, have led me to believe that sometimes nothing can be done.

Despite having raised you, it sometimes works out that parents and son/daughter end up being strangers to one another. Could be that, if your parents are divorced, biology and psychology are getting in the way. After all, you will have both parents’ genetics in your body. Rarely is it an even 50/50 split. So what can you do?

If constantly having a conversation doesn’t work, you will eventually stop. If two people must change in order to have a healthy relationship, and only one person changes, then why should they keep on changing? We all hate quitting, but sometimes it’s the only thing we can do. Defeat is not always acceptance and acceptance is not always defeat.

 

The Cult of Smart

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Years ago, someone, somewhere in my life, asked an interesting question. “Would you rather date someone smart, or someone kind.” Sure, it’s not a groundbreaking question by any means, and it is most likely one that most people have been asked before. The first half of the question, and more precisely, the word “smart” has been on my mind. What does it truly mean to be “smart.”

Intelligence in the modern world is often boiled down to IQ. Yet, each individual’s IQ is subject to many degrees of variance. For example, your score could be radically altered by how well you slept prior to taking the test. Additionally, it is easy to make an argument that IQ is a valueless metric when trying to ascertain where someone will end up in the game of life.

Complicating the concept further is every individual’s unique perception of what makes someone smart. Being from a predominantly blue state, “smart” is often characterized by someone who is a Democrat, reads the New York Times, and is cultured to some degree. As much as the above description is a caricature that you might see on television, it is also how plenty of people in this part of the U.S.A. operate. Yes, people are generally becoming more intelligent as time moves forward, but we can’t all be rocket scientists, right?

Certainly, there are plenty of people who fit the caricature of an intelligent person, and are actually intelligent, but what about the ones who are just pretending? Do the truly intelligent people know that they are actually intelligent, or are we stuck in a vicious reoccurring cycle of the Dunning-Kruger effect? And if we are in a world full of people who believe themselves to be smarter than they actually are, how can the truly intelligent, change anything?

What is “smart” when it can be turned into such a grand illusion? Anyone can fake intelligence. With our current knowledge of psychology and neuroscience, it’s been proven that intelligence can be faked without insidious intent, or without even trying at all.

Kindness is difficult to fake, and unless you are a con-artist, it has few incentives attached. Maybe the perception of intelligence is appealing to many, and they get trapped into the idea of dating the illusory “smart” person. Kindness, to me, seems like the far better option.

 

The Masterplan

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Robert Frost has a popular poem titled The Road Not Taken from which the last stanza is often cited. Self-help gurus, your fourth grade English teacher, Orange Is The New Black, etc. That final stanza states:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
And this is the part that you will hear most of the time, whether out of context, in context, or even taken in a subjective context. No this isn’t going to be an agreement to the interpretation of the poem by the main character of Orange Is The New Black, (I’ve never actually watched the show, except for that scene.)
The interpretation of the poem being about how we actually end up in the same place regardless of what path we take is interesting, but it’s still one person’s interpretation. The question his poem makes me ponder is, is there a master plan? Are we, being human and all, each our own forward-moving wheel built out of our good, bad, and great habits slowly decaying to our timely deaths?
If it were so, then fate would be predetermined. Genetics, to an extent, controls parts of our wheel. How you look, and even parts of your personality are determined by the people who created you, and the people who created them. You may be a good looking wheel that is slowly decaying, or you may be an ugly one, but you rarely ever see an “ugly” person take advantage of their looks.
Crude example? Sure. Point is that parts of the “wheel” are out of our control. You can change your habits, slow down a bit, maybe change your direction, and do a plethora of other things that alter your trajectory. But how much can you really change until changing becomes your habit, and can’t you change so much that you end up becoming the person you originally were? Additionally, you will always have forward momentum. So what is the master plan?
Can we end up exactly where we want, and what are the costs? Every wheel moving toward the end of their time has to change to some extent. No one gets to escape the necessary fate of changing in order to get where you want. Well, maybe some people do, but those people are insanely lucky. For everyone else, luck lies in trying.
The more you try the more likely luck will fall into your lap. Maybe that’s what Noel was singing about. It’s all part of the masterplan.  Hey, I had to stick a reference to the reference of the title somewhere, right?

True Loneliness

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Being alone, at least from this writer’s perspective, is tantamount to bliss. There are probably a shit ton of writers who feel that way. Masochism is always fun when it involves words. Joking.

Though there are some people with a predilection towards enjoying loneliness, I think there is something different about true loneliness. When you’re reading a book in a quiet room, and you know nothing in the world will pull you away from that book, that is heavenly. When you are suddenly unemployed, and it becomes a part of how people perceive you, that is true loneliness.

Sure, people can empathize with those people, and tell them, “Hey bro, I know how you feel.” till they are blue in the face. But if there are any words more hollow than, “Hey, I know how you feel” when you are unemployed, I do not know them. For some reason, when you are the person in the situation that everyone has been in, you get a true feeling of loneliness.

Even just the slightest difference in how we emotionally receive an experience can make us perceive it as wholly different from someone else’s similar experience. And, for some reason that is probably related, empathy is a tricky beast. How can one know they are being empathetic rather than being patronizing? Is giving advice even empathetic at all, or are we not living in a world where millions of after-school specials are simultaneously taking place throughout the globe, except not in television screens, but rather in real life?

Okay, so that last sentence is somewhat sarcastic. Everyone, at some point, experiences true loneliness. The more interesting question, which is the more pertinent one to this rambling, is how many people get to experience true empathy? In this weird game of life, dominated by western civilization, I think the answer may be small. C’est la vie, I suppose.