Other sporting events are getting more coverage than normal. Case in point, “Norway’s Thomas Waerner wins Iditarod”. Interviews with each individual doggie to follow.
My first year writing students are 18-19 years-old. Here’s the prompt for their first paper:
Irvine argues that people often lack a “grand goal of living” and a coherent philosophy of life because our culture doesn’t encourage thinking about specific reasons for living; instead it provides them with an endless stream of distractions. He contends you’ll most likely squander your life without a guiding philosophy. He adds that even if you have a “grand goal in living” and can explain its importance, it’s unlikely you will attain those things in life you take to be of greatest value if you lack an effective strategy that specifies what you must do as you go about your daily activities. Explain why you agree or disagree with Irvine’s assertions. Also, explain a few things you want out of life and why.
Irvine proposes an updated version of Stoicism as a guiding philosophy. Most of my writers find meaning in some stoic concepts, like the trichotomy of control, but generally aren’t down with Irvine’s thesis that they need a “grand goal of living”. Most argue they’re too young to have formulated very specific life goals, let alone one “grand” one. Often, they thoughtfully point out that a highly detailed roadmap doesn’t make sense given life’s unpredictability.
When it comes to what they want out of life, an increasing number want improved mental health. It’s difficult to overstate the extent of young adults’ anxiety today. When I listen to them describe their anxiety and depression in class and read about it in their papers I have two reactions. Overwhelming empathy and curiosity as to what the hell is going on.
The third episode of the Happiness Lab podcast with Laurie Santos, “The Silver Lining”, might provide a clue. It’s about our tendency to compare ourselves to others who we perceive to be the most well liked, the most social, the most wealthy, the most together, the seemingly most happy. The episode’s title comes from research into Olympic athletes that suggests bronze medal winners are much happier with their medals than silver medal winners because silver medal winners are focused on not having won gold while bronze medal winners are focused on everyone that didn’t medal at all. This concept, “point of reference”, partially explains why happiness can be so illusive.
A Cornell psychologist in the episode contends social media compounds this problem because everyone carefully curates their online image to appear artificially happy. Among other remedies, Stoics advocate for internal goals to counter our self-sabotaging “point of reference” tendencies.
The gravity of the situation has me convinced that there’s no one explanation to “what’s going on”. Another factor could be the pressure my (admittedly selective) students feel to have their adult lives figured out just as they’re beginning them—whether to go to college, how selective a one, how to pay for it, what to study, what internships and other resume building activities to pursue, whether to go to graduate school, which career path, which grand goal for shits sake.
Parents, intensely worried about the vagaries of the economy, and desperate for a return on their considerable college investment, think that if their young adult children just pick the right thing to study—nursing, engineering, and other pre-professional fields—and develop a detailed plan, their college graduate sons and daughters won’t end up living in their basements.
This was what I was thinking about when struck by a related idea during a recent run. This time of the year, in North Olympia, Washington, it’s pitch black when running before work. Most of the streets are not lit, sometimes there’s fog. My uber-headlamp provides about 20-25 yards of visibility.
North Oly roads roll with a constantly changing mix of gentle ups and downs. Picture ocean swells, the Palouse in Eastern Washington, or the Norwegian countryside. Normally, I realized during the run, seeing roads ahead tilt upwards plays with my mind. At least a little. “Here it comes,” I think, “this is gonna take a little more effort.” And then, “Okay, almost topping out, hang in.”
But on this pitch black, foggy, autumn run, there was no such internal dialogue because I COULDN’T SEE AHEAD. The only way I knew I was starting a climb was my breathing became more labored. “Oh, okay, climbing now.” Because I couldn’t see the road tilting upwards ahead of time, my mind was free of that small, subtle nagging dread of having to work harder. As someone whose prone to look too far down the road of life, I was digging running in the moment. Don’t tell me what’s ahead, let me just be present.
Freed of anticipatory dread, my mind turned to my students. They lament how their teachers, beginning in middle school, ask about their life plans. And how it continues through high school. And how their parents too often pressure them to have a plan.
Some of them end up crafting faux-plans just to stop the insanity. As a placeholder of sorts. Some, like a previous writing student, declare nursing upon entering college only to realize in the middle of our first semester seminar that they didn’t really like science.
Maybe we should give our high school graduates headlamps and encourage them to focus at most on the year ahead especially since life is fragile and no one is guaranteed a long life.
What if our message was this.
In the next year, while working, traveling, or going to college; focus on improving your health; nourishing your spirit; investing in new friendships; finding one way to make others’ lives better. Don’t worry unnecessarily about the mountains and valleys that lie ahead in the distant future. You’ll be okay. And if not, let me know how I can help.
Young adults’ mental health might improve.
“History can be manipulated, whitewashed and rewritten, but people who have lived in history all have their stories, which no single dictator or censor can rob. Memories, kept in stories, keep history alive. And who, among American writers, is a fiercer and braver keeper of the memories that have made America the country it is today, in the most beautiful and powerful language?”
2. Scenes From the 2019 Pan American Games. Quants increasingly slice and dice sports in ever greater detail, but athletes’ passion and emotions will always resonate most.
“In a place with open borders, crafting incentives is complex: If you make life on Svalbard appealing—with good schools, for instance, or better housing—there’s no way to guarantee that it will be Norwegians who come. At the same time, Svalbard cannot turn away anyone on account of nationality. The result, which can be easily justified with the treaty’s mandate of low taxes, is that the Norwegian government provides as little as possible: Unlike the mainland, the islands have minimal health care, child care, and housing benefits.”
4. What happens as opioid abusers hit middle age? Where the most people die of drug overdoses—Scotland, USA, Estonia.
5. Inside the ten days, two hours it took Fiona Kolbinger to ride across Europe. Only 400k a day. Twenty four year-old cancer researcher who plays the piano and cycles a bit on the side.
6. Consumer Report Indicates Slushies Lose 35% of Their Value Within First Year of Purchase. Eldest daughters second appearance in The Onion, a satirical newspaper. Making me semi-famous.
1. Do ice dancers get better scores if they’re sex partners? A very odd mix of science and tabloid journalism with references to “knocking boots”, “boning”, and “the dirty deed”.
The Good Wife and I have picked this song for our 2022 ice dancing debut. Thanks to our sub-freezing temps, practice has already begun. Look for us in Beijing.
“Even starry athletes have bad days or, in the case of high-pressure Olympic competition, bad milliseconds. When they get it together — the next day, or the next minute — it’s a reset, and it happens because the athlete is serious, committed, has talent, and knows how to push through. In other words, they have resilience.
It’s not about sin or shame or failure, though implying that that’s the case makes for eye-catching headlines, especially when there’s a bright ending to the tale.”
“To thrive, cross-country needs national heroes in places like Germany, which has a population of more than 82 million. And while the United States, Sweden and other countries have lately won some major titles, the Norwegians took gold at all five of the women’s events at the world championships in Finland last year, and won a total of 18 medals, more than any other country. Norway won 15 in cross-country. The next-closest country won four.
All of this presents a conundrum for Norwegians. They want their athletes to destroy everyone in their favorite sport, but the sport could be destroyed unless other countries win.”
I’m sure my Swedish friend, Anna Rappe, who has a special fondness for her neighbors, feels for the Norwegians.
“The love for nature and skiing has given rise to some 1,000 ski clubs. Informal and low budget, many of them are driven by volunteers and overseen by parents. But they give the sport a vast and fertile grass-roots base.”
I’ve been privileged to travel the world and swim, ride, and run in many awe-inspiring places, but one day I spent cross country skiing in Norway was the most memorable, insanely beautiful, and spiritual outdoor experience of my life.
Or more accurately, thinking.
I do not know Shivani Vora, but I seriously question her sanity. In “How to Have a Luxury Vacation in Norway for Less”, she writes perhaps the most outlandish phrase I’ve ever read in the Paper of Record.
“Norway is a great choice for travelers on a limited budget. . . “
Trust me on this, there are about 194 better choices if you’re trying to stretch your travel dollar.
[Postscript: I’m receiving unrelenting pressure from one of the caption contest contestants. She really wants to know whether she won; however, upon meeting with my attorneys, I’ve been advised to limit the competition to non-family members. Consequently, congratulations to Lance for the victory.]
If my ticket gets punched sometime soon, I’ll have lived a life filled to the brim. Almost disorientingly so. I’ve crouched in the final passageway of a West African slave fort, been drenched by Victoria Fall’s mist, walked on the Great Wall of China, ran around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, hiked in Chiapas, and cross country skied in Norway. I’ve lived in the Midwest, the West, the Southeast, and as one six year old here says, “the Specific Northwest”. I’ve interacted with thousands of young people, the vast majority who appreciated my efforts on their behalf. I’ve cycled up and down mountains in the Western United States. I’ve taught guest lessons in my daughters’ elementary classrooms. I’ve been blessed to know lots of people more selfless than me, some who will read this today. I’ve been loved by caring, generous parents, and been privileged to know my wife and daughters and their friends.
My life has been so full that I tend to think about whatever my future holds as extra credit. Everything from here on out is a bonus.
Maybe I don’t look forward to too much anymore because my cup has been overflowing for some time. Apart from a story well told and nature, not a lot moves me these days.
So getting choked up in church yesterday, during the announcements of all things, was totally unexpected. A guest was invited to the front to make a surprise announcement. A tall, dapper man in his late 30’s began describing his relationship with ChuckB, a member who had passed away a few months ago. He had been Chuck’s financial planner for eight years.
I didn’t know Chuck until I attended a celebration of his life that was planned nine months ago after the church community learned of his terminal illness. He worked as a forester for the Department of Ecology for a few decades and kept a low profile at church, driving the van, tutoring after school, doing whatever was needed behind the scenes. At his celebration I was struck by how everyone described him as one of the most humble, caring, and giving people they had ever known. He lived a simple life in a modest neighborhood that revolved around participating in church activities.
The financial planner announced that Chuck and his wife, who had passed away previously, were leaving the church $925,000, divided four ways, the largest portion for international aide, another for local charities, another for Lutheran World Relief specifically, and about $220,000 in the church’s unrestricted fund to use as the Council sees fit. A Council that has been seeking about $35,000 to fund a half-time position dedicated to strengthening our ties to local people in need.
There was an audible gasp. Two people stood and began applauding and soon everyone followed. My favorite part, and probably what moved me so much, was that Chuck wasn’t there for his standing ovation. Shortly before he died, he confided to one member that he was leaving “the bulk of his estate to the church,” but that person said she had “no idea it was anywhere near that much money.” No one did.
The most beautiful and moving part to me is that Chuck intentionally passed on his standing ovation. He didn’t need it. A life filled with service and saving was more than enough. Blessed be his memory.
One of the things I most enjoy in life is traveling to different countries and eras through the filmmaker’s lens.
In 1990, at the Denver International Film Festival, I saw Rojo Amanecer, or Red Dawn, which told the story of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico City from the point of view of a family that lived in one of the apartments facing Tlatelolco Square during the shooting. “The film, Amaya Rachelle Elizindok writes, “became one of the biggest hits in what’s since been dubbed The New Mexican Cinema Movement.”
The entire film takes place inside one apartment. It does not end well. Afterwards, I was overwhelmed by sadness, unable to speak or move while the credits rolled and rolled and rolled. Same with everyone in the theatre. Lifeless, we sat perfectly still for several minutes.
Twenty-six years later, I felt the same after finishing One of Us. Completely drained. Heart-broken for the families of the seventy-seven people who were killed. The word “sad” doesn’t do justice to Asne Seierstad’s story of the 2011 massacre in Norway. An entirely new word is needed. Seierstad’s account is comprehensive, thorough, disciplined, and intimate. A remarkable work of journalism. It’s a disciplined telling of the story in the sense that she describes the events and the psychiatrists’ differing analyses, only offering her perspective on Breivik after 522 pages.
Wrapped within the tragedy are innumerable social scientific questions concerning child development, family dysfunction, interpersonal relationships, video gaming, mental illness, the media, violence, policing, and criminal justice. An Abnormal Psychology professor would only need this text.
Seierstad’s first and last words were most memorable. The first are from an epilogue where she quotes Hjalmar Soderberg, the author of a 1905 novel, Doktor Glas:
We want to be loved; failing that, admired; failing that, feared; failing that, hated and despised. At all costs we want to stir up some sort of feelings in others. Our soul abhors a vacuum. At all costs it longs for contact.
And from page 523:
One of Us is a book about belonging, a book about community. . . . This is also a book about looking for a way to belong and not finding it. The perpetrator ultimately decided to opt out of the community and strike at it in the most brutal of ways.
That view is echoed by Karl Ove Knausgaard in his essay “Inside the warped mind of Anders Breivik“. Knausgaard writes:
What can prompt a relatively well-functioning man to do something so horrific in the midst of a stable, prosperous and orderly country? Is it possible to ever comprehend it?
Based on Breivik’s political rhetoric and his self-understanding, and also on his chosen targets – Regjeringskvartalet and the ruling party’s youth organisation – it is natural to compare his act with the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, where Timothy McVeigh, in an anti-government protest, parked a truck bomb outside a federal building and murdered 168 people. Indeed, Breivik took the Oklahoma City bombing as a model for the first part of his attack. However, almost everything else regarding Breivik and his crime points away from the political and the ideological and towards the personal. He made himself a sort of military commander’s uniform, in which he photographed himself before the crime; he consistently referred to a large organisation, of which he claimed to be a prominent member but which does not exist; in his manifesto he interviews himself as if he were a hero; and the impression this gives is of a person who has erected a make-believe reality, in which his significance is undisputed. The way in which he carried out his crime, and the way his thoughts contextualised it, resembles role-playing, rather than political terrorism. The solitude this implies is enormous, not to mention the need for self-assertion. The most logical approach is to view his actions as a variation on the numerous school massacres that have occurred in the past decades in the United States, Finland and Germany: a young man, a misfit, who is either partly or completely excluded from the group, takes as many people with him into death as he can, in order to ‘show’ us.
A few months before Breivik carried out the assault, he visited his former stepmother and told her that soon he was going to do something that would make his father proud. His mother had left his father when he was one, and it had been years since Breivik had spoken to him.
He wanted to be seen; that is what drove him, nothing else.
Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.
In the United States we need to incentivize the giving up of guns and implement much tougher gun control laws. At the same time, Seierstad and Knausgaard remind us that seeing the invisible in our midst is at least equally as important. Seeing means making eye contact with and talking to those who’ve given up and begun withdrawing. Some of the most alienated are children. To reduce domestic terrorism, we need to see them most of all.