Writing

Pessimists are Boring. Here’s Why.

photo credit: stallio
photo credit: stallio

Believing that things will never improve takes no imagination: “I’ll keep losing money. I’ll keep getting fatter. I’ll never find anyone I love. People will continue to kill each other. The planet will keep getting warmer.” But believing things can improve requires thoughtfulness and creativity to envision reasons why and ways how they could get better. Unimaginative people are boring. Creative people are interesting.

Believing that things will never improve relieves yourself of the burden of trying to make them better. It takes no effort to deteriorate. But believing that things can improve necessitates the effort to make it happen: you have to work harder, overcome unpleasantness, challenge yourself. Lazy people are boring. Industrious people are interesting.

Believing that things will never improve murders ambition. If you presume your career is doomed, your love life is doomed, the world is doomed, then you have no reason to set goals, let alone try to achieve them. You give yourself a permanentexcuse to let your dreams whither. But believing that things can improve means believing that nothing prevent you from reaching your objectives other than yourself. Complacent people are boring. Ambitious people are interesting.

Believing that things will never improve makes you whiny, angry, and generally a turd to be around. Turdish people are boring. Pessimists are boring.

We Are Not Hopeless

Ellsworth Kelly, High Yellow, 1960
Ellsworth Kelly, High Yellow
, 1960

This is a story I heard yesterday. It was told by a young guy at the cafe table next to mine, with a shaved head and rippling muscles, wearing a tank top, cargo shorts, and dog tags. Earlier that morning, he explained, he had been sitting by himself outside when a stranger approached him.

“I think I’m going to kill myself,” the man said.

“Excuse me?”

“I think I’m going to kill myself.”

The young guy looked him over. He believed the man. “Okay,” he said. “Sit down and talk to me.”

The stranger wouldn’t sit down, but he didn’t leave. “Why do you want to kill yourself?” the young guy asked. The man told him he’d had enough. He said he planned to shoot himself. He didn’t know what else to do.

“I’d like to help you. Can I help you?”

The stranger shrugged.

“Can I call the police to come help you? I’ll stay here with you until they get here.” The man nodded.

“Are you carrying a weapon?” He nodded again. “Okay, look — we don’t want there to be any trouble when the cops come. So can I take your weapon away from you?”

Another nod. The young guy stood and gently patted the man down. He found a pistol in his clothes, which he removed. He ejected the clip, unloaded it, and set the disassembled gun down next to them. Then he called the police.

When the cops arrived, they talked to the stranger and asked if he wanted to come with them. He said that he did. So they led him to the car, taking the young guy’s phone number before they left. They called him that afternoon to tell him the stranger’s name and that he was getting the help he needed.

We look at the hate and death in the news today, and it’s hard not to despair, but we are not doomed. We feel helpless, but none of our actions are futile. We change the world the most by intently being as good as we can, by approaching every decision with the aim of being kind.

“I guess I did a good thing today,” the young guy said without pride or drama. We are not hopeless.

From the Archives: My Interview With Donora, PA’s Greatest Partridge Family Tribute Band

While digging through my storage space recently, I yanked some particularly Goodwillable sweaters out of an old trunk and underneath found a stained manila folder. Inside was something I thought I’d lost — the only known extant photocopy of my music newsletter from many, many years ago, “The Bird Stump.” It contains the final interview with one-man Partridge Family tribute band, In a Pear Tree. I’ve scanned in all four pages, below.

The Bird Stump by Seth Madej, pg. 1

I Read All 3000 Pages of Ian Fleming’s Groovy 007 Oeuvre

NOTE: This post originally appeared on September 13, 2013. I’m republishing it today for Ian Fleming’s 108th birthday.

Ian FlemingIn May of 2012, I finished a five-month stint of watching all the James Bond movies in order. When I was done, I somehow found myself no less unemployed than when I’d started, so I opted to rectify that the only way I knew how: by reading in order all of Ian Fleming’s 007 books — 12 novels and two short-story collections. It took me over a year, a rate of about one book per month.

I’d read two of Fleming’s stories before — Casino Royale 12 or 13 years ago, and Goldfinger when I was a teenager, from which for some reason I’ve always remembered the sentence, “Bond felt the skin-crawling tickle at the groin that dates from one’s first game of hide and seek in the dark.” — long enough ago that I didn’t know what to expect in terms of quality, theme, character, or anything else.

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Meet My First Best Friend

NOTE: This post was originally published May 15, 2012. I’m reposting it at the kind request of my good friend Kay Morgan.

Mindy

I traveled back to my hometown of Pittsburgh this week for the first time in two years. I made the trip for my grandmother’s ninetieth birthday party, so there was a lot of going through old family photos. I kept a few of the ones of — with apologies to all the humans I’ve known — the best friend I ever had until I met wife, my childhood dog Mindy.

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Art That Changed My Life: The Counterfeiters

NOTE: This post was originally published Sep. 11, 2012. I’m reposting it for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Counterfeiters – directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky (2007)

The Counterfeiters
My dad’s Catholic; my mom’s Jewish. So by the rules of Judaism, I’m Jewish. I certainly have the typical family for it, with the sheer size and volume of my mom’s side 1Her father was the youngest of 11 children. drowning out my dad’s small, quiet side. If I called my maternal grandmother, all I had to do was ask her one question and sit back and listen for an hour. If I called my dad’s mother, I needed a ream of material to keep her on the phone for five minutes.

But I never had the belief for Judaism. My sister and I were raised with samples from both religions: a Christmas tree with a star of David on top, Dukes of Hazzard action figures for Hanukkah. Between birth and high school I’d been to temple maybe twice. It took me a few years to realize that the illustrated book of stories that my maternal grandmother gave me, full of cities being destroyed and big dudes getting killed by rocks, were all tales from the Old Testament. I was allowed to make up my own mind about religion, and that combined with a steady dose of ontological science fiction put me on a slow but reasonably steady path toward atheism and a general lack of interest in religion.

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1. Her father was the youngest of 11 children.

Music for Air Drumming

Oh, so you like to play air guitar? Well tell it to your Tamagotchi on your Friendster page, because air guitar is over. For we cools it’s all about air drum. Here’s a Spotify playlist of two hours of music 1One which leans heavily on loud rock, because that’s what I most enjoy air drumming to. that teaches you if you free your arms your ass will follow.

WARNING: This playlist is not for noobz!!1! If you lack energy, precision, maniacal limb flailing, or Intense Air Percussion Facial Expressions, you’re gonna be outclassed. For example, when I asked for suggestions to build this list, chump after chump came at me with “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins, calling it the greatest air drumming song ever. WRONG. “ItAT” is for amateurs and pattern baldies. Put away childish things and step into the pros. The true greatest air drumming song ever begins this list, pummels Phil’s drum machine into plastic crumbs, and it is:

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1. One which leans heavily on loud rock, because that’s what I most enjoy air drumming to.