What Can YouTube Teach?

Either YouTube is a totally useless platform that is dominated by egotists and the trolls that follow them. Or it’s a source of knowledge and inspiration with life-changing powers. In this episode we ask, “What have you learned from watching a YouTube video?”

Thank You

  • Ingram Oyugi mixed this episode. If you would like to polish up your podcast, cut an album or do any other type of audio project, Igram can help you. You can reach him by email: ioyugi@icloud.com and Twitter: @ingramoyugi.
  • Brian Harmon
  • WordCamp Minneapolis 2017 – The majority of the respondents were WordCamp attendees, speakers, organizers and other volunteers.

About this Episode

Can we turn a podcast episode around overnight? That was the challenge.

We collected tape at WordCamp – Minneapolis on a Friday morning into the afternoon with the goal of having a finished episode by the following Saturday afternoon. We got a head start by also collecting tape at a related speakers event Thursday evening.

Initially, I was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough time to gather enough tape to fill out a 58-minute episode. But that wasn’t so much of a problem. We briefly had three people on the job when Ingram, the audio engineer for this episode, jumped in to help. Most of the time there were two of us, Brian and me. While more help collecting tape certainly would have been good, the extra hands would have been best applied elsewhere. If I were to do this again, I’d put them on preparing clips for assembling. As for putting the pieces together, that’s relatively easy. Although, I still would have liked to have had more time to do this. I had ideas that I couldn’t execute because of the time limitations.

Nevertheless, we did it. The episode was ready for my Saturday afternoon presentation at WordCamp. As a result, I was completely sleep deprived, but we pulled it off. The plan was to publish the “YouTube” episode as part of my talk. People would have seen us recording interviews the day before. Some would actually be in the episode. To complete the circle Click! Click! Voila! We’ve just published our podcast! Cool, right?

This is the part where I am going to spare you the details of one technical glitch after another. Let’s just say that I was in a University classroom with state-of-the-art multimedia and between five of us, no one could make the sound work. Oh, and my talk was about podcasting.

The episode did fall a little short of the 58-minute mark, which would make it compatible with a KFAI Radio spot. More regrettable was that I ran out of time before I was able to include everyone who answered the question. For this reason, I’m thinking about making a less rushed version two of the show. I mean, I couldn’t believe how often “making slime” came up. Got to add that!

Problems notwithstanding, I still count this experiment as a success. It can be useful to accomplish something with barely enough time. Now I wouldn’t want this to be a normal mode of doing things. But if you are flooded with resources, you won’t actually learn what it takes to do something because you have more than enough. But if you cut it close, you’ll get a better sense of what it really takes. And then you can make adjustments from there.

I am certain that this could not have been done without Brian’s help or without Ingram’s help and technical expertise. It was a joy to hand the files over to Ingram who leveled the audio (so that you can listen to the show without “riding the volume”) and fixed other issues to make things sound better. In the past, I have done this myself as an amateur. In this case, I know for certain there wouldn’t have been the time to do it.

I’d like to try this again.

I do not consume podcasts

Could we just say what we mean? Do we mean ‘consume’ or ‘listen’?

by Rebekah Smith

Question of the Day When I had a college radio show the station manager would scold us for using insider lingo on the air. “Say ‘Public Service Announcement’ and not ‘cart'”, he would insist. Carts were these boxy looking tapes where the PSAs and other promos lived. You could easily jam them into a player, sort of like an 8-track tape, which made them ideal for these short bits. Today as more and more jargon infiltrates the language, I wish there were a staff meeting where someone would stand up and say, “Stop doing that! You sound like an idiot!”

Language evolves. Okay. But office is not a verb and I’m never going to say convo instead of conversation1. It’s bad enough that we can’t form a complete sentence without truncating any word with more than two syllables (note that “promotion” doesn’t merit the same consideration – see “promo” above). As for your “ask”, until you can make a simple request forget it. I’d also like to preserve the idea that I listen to podcasts as opposed to “consume” them. If we can’t do that, then what the hell can we do?

To consume (verb):

  1. to destroy or expend by use; use up.
  2. to eat or drink up; devour.
  3. to destroy, as by decomposition or burning:
  4. to spend (money, time, etc.) wastefully.
  5. to absorb; engross:
  6. to undergo destruction; waste away.
  7. to use or use up consumer goods.

In other words, while I am not likely to consume your podcast, if it’s any good I might be consumed by it.

Or by “consume” do you suggest that people are ingesting your show, like a blueberry pie? What if I consumed the whole pie? Who else could enjoy it? The Re-burger comes to mind. But literally eating shit is not the image you had hoped to conjure, I’m guessing.

As a consumer I might subscribe to satellite radio.

Consumer (noun):

  1. a person or thing that consumes.
  2. Economics. a person or organization that uses a commodity or service.
  3. Ecology. an organism, usually an animal, that feeds on plants or other animals.

But even then why not call me a subscriber? As the consumer, I do not listen to anything.

I have no favorite shows.

I just write the checks.

Consumers consume. They use things up, things like gasoline and toilet paper. Okay. I love my toilet paper. So I’ll concede that being referred to as a consumer isn’t necessarily dehumanizing, but it’s not appropriate for every situation, especially if it supplants a more descriptive (and human) term (e.g., listener, audience, fan) for a crass economic one.

Do we consume art?


Do children consume education?

I saw Maria Bamford at the Women’s Club in Minneapolis. Did I consume her comedy?

We don’t even use “consume” when it’s legit…legitimate. Did you have a sandwich for lunch or did you consume it? Do you like to eat pizza or do you prefer to consume it? Eat! Unless you gulp down the whole pie, who besides a statistician would ever say that you consumed it?

So why are we (primarily podcasters) good with the notion of “consuming” podcasts? What is the function of “consuming” over the accuracy of “listening to” or even “downloading” podcasts? This puzzled me at first. I imagined industry insiders trying to claim some expertise on the new frontier by defining the landscape with their own words. Then I noticed that “consume” was everywhere for no purpose that I could see. Take this example from an article in The Atlantic:

“Evaluate the moral price of producing good art and what damage it might cause to those involved when their secrets are instantly available for the entertainment consumption [emphasis added] of thousands or millions of listeners.” (Goudeau, 2017)

Entertainment consumption? Why not just entertainment? For the entertainment of…

Or here’s this from a Facebook group:

“…Here’s a snippet of our latest [podcast] for your consumption.”

Why not say “for your enjoyment”?

And this, also on Facebook:

“Podcasts are…easy to consume on car rides…”

Having access to a podcast from the car is really what is interesting here, not the fact that we – ahem – consume them there. So as “consume” generically stands in for more and more words, we obscure the point. It would be like missing how amazing it is to have overnight access to strawberries in the middle of a desert while noting that the people there devour them.

“Consuming podcasts” brings binging on them to mind (binge-listening and not binge-consuming, mind you). Both reference food. So we notice that people like binging on television shows even though there appears to be a correlation between doing this and feeling depressed (Karmakar and Sloan Kruger, 2016). What do we do? Point out that you can binge on podcasts too. When you consider the tragic outcomes associated with compulsive behavior (binge eating, drinking, gambling, etc.), the encouragement to binge seems like a pretty sadistic marketing campaign. It’s like coming up with a faster way to drink beer and selling it to alcoholics.

“Consume” reduces listeners to the single function of consumerism. That’s counter to the idea that podcasts have the potential to be uniquely personal. Be authentic!” we’re told. “Be yourself and connect to your audience!” How does this jive with imagining a guy “consuming” your podcast while he does the dishes? Could you ever say “Thank you for taking the time to consume my show?” without tripping the bullshit alarm? I can just see the look on my mother’s face. She’d cure me of that in a hurry.

In the meantime, I am no longer considered to be a customer at a department store. Instead, I am a guest.

Could we just say what we mean?

Do we mean consume or listen?

Do we tell stories to consumers or listeners?

Do we have fans or consumers who “convert”, buy the “merch” and use our promo codes?

At the same time I am sympathetic to the artist that exists in a system where people can make a living with a telemarketing scam or managing phantom money while there is little room for crafting beautiful things: podcasts, jewelry, a Harley carved out of an old piece of wood. How do you make a go of it? Sponsorships? Patrons? Grants? An underlying business that is served by the podcast? But even if the answer ultimately rests directly or indirectly in a consumer culture, why parrot marketing hacks? What is served by letting that language dominate how we talk about things like our favorite podcast? Or how we talk about the people who listen to our podcast?

Here’s more from Facebook:

“…there are so many great new shows and I want to consume them all!”

“Since I am a Swede I consume some Swedish podcasts.”

Perhaps the idea of “consuming podcasts” is rooted elsewhere. As I poked around, trying to figure out where this comes from, I noticed references to RSS readers “consuming feeds” (“Feeds”! How perfect!), which predates the notion of people consuming them, as far as I could tell. I also saw articles about writing code that consumes RSS feeds, applications that consume them, tools, etc. At some point there is a shift where it’s the people and not the machines that do the consuming. I suspect this is a coincidence, but I’m not sure.

Or could it be that we have inferred that if we can digest a podcast it makes sense that we would have consumed it first, like that blueberry pie. That’s cute but I doubt it.

It might have sufficed to say that I don’t know when or why we swapped listening for consuming. I just know that I bristle to hear it and so have the scientifically insignificant sample of non-podcasters I’ve asked about it. However it goes, please stop.

I do not consume your show.

I listen to it.

I am a person.

You sound like an idiot.


1 Merriam-Webster mercifully does not currently recognize “convo”. However, I found this horrifying example of the word at Dictionary.com: “My work is mostly convoing with customers.” Holy shit.

Goudeau, Jessica (April 9, 2017). “Was the Art of S-Town Worth the Pain?. The Atlantic. Retrieved April 26, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/04/was-the-art-of-s-town-worth-the-pain/522366/

Karmakar, Monita and Sloan Kruger, Jessica (March 4, 2016). “Is binge-watching bad for your mental health?”. The Guardian. Retrieved April 26, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/04/binge-watching-mental-health-effects-research

How did that painting end up in my living room?

We make up a story about how a painting of a fireplace ended up in our living room.

Searching for a mystery artist

We are looking for the real artist who made the painting that inspired our story. You can help us find this person by sharing this picture on social media.

Who painted this picture of a fireplace that inspired our story?
Who painted this picture of a fireplace that inspired our story?

Are you the artist?

Contact us! We would love to hear the real story behind this painting.

Thank you!


  • Guiton Sketch Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
    Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
  • Aretes Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
    Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
  • Exciting Trailer Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
    Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Tupperware Art

Who knew? Tupperware art is a thing.

About this episode

The week of Thanksgiving, we had some people over. After dinner we sat around the fireplace to chew on a question. How did this painting end up in our living room? We began by describing the painting. Then we introduced an artist, Helena Susan Adams. By the end of the evening, we pieced together the history of the painting, what had inspired it, where it had been and how did it ultimately come into my hands. Various characters popped up, of course. So I thought it would be fun to interview some of them and add their voices to the mix. I love the mix of reality and fiction. We start in one place and end in the other.

Apologize When You’ve Done Something Wrong

On Facebook a friend shared the following post about apologies from the Instagram account of FeministVoice (December 21, 2016).

“lately i’ve been replacing my ‘i’m sorry’s with ‘thank you’s’ like instead of ‘sorry i’m late’ i’ll say ‘thanks for waiting for me’, or instead of ‘sorry for being such a mess’ i’ll say ‘thank you for loving me and caring about me unconditionally’ and it’s not only shifted the way i think and feel about myself but also improved my relationships with others who now get to receive my gratitude instead of my negativity.”

As of this writing, 58 people have liked the post and 54 have shared it.


“How do you know when you’ve heard a sincere apology?” is a question I’ve been asking for a future episode of my podcast, QuOTeD. So the suggestion to substitute our sorries with our gratitude struck me a little funny. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a load of crap.

The impulse to rein in unnecessary apologies is understandable. But broadly replacing them with gratitude feels false. It discounts why we apologize.

What tells the truth? What connects? What heals? According to the handful of random people who responded to my question so far, this is exactly the purpose of an apology. It

Tells the truth.

Apologies move us through conflict. They are not the cause of our low self-esteem or the reason for negativity in our lives. Whereas these things might be exacerbated when we hide from our imperfections instead of embracing them, which an apology can help us do.

Sincere apologies tell the truth, connect and heal.

Unlike an apology, gratitude does not necessarily acknowledge the reality of the harmed party (i.e., the truth). In the case of the above post, gratitude is primarily concerned with the comfort of the offender who wants to avoid conflict. So, instead of facing how our actions may have negatively affected another, it’s easier to conflate apologies with self-hatred or attach them to our critics who demand perfection. Or we might have personal issues that make apologies difficult. Now “self-care” gets to mean that we should be overly concerned about how much we apologize. Be careful with your pruning. It turns out that the words “I’m sorry” do matter. When wronged, people want to hear those words and they notice when they don’t. In some cases, they remember these instances forever.

Not to overblow the issue of tardiness, thanking me for waiting for you does nothing to acknowledge my reality, except to say that I did wait some undetermined amount of time – which you have deemed trivial. This fact is divorced from whatever might have been going on for me logistically, emotionally or whatever (i.e, my reality). Maybe I was irritated. In this case, a pre-emptive “thank you” becomes a means to manage and control my response. That hardly sounds like genuine gratitude to me. Just like corporate speak, it aims to redefine my reality without consulting me. It’s creepy. It also glosses over what is being communicated. Situations vary, but you’re being 15 minutes late tells me that I do not matter. Someone is a few minutes late and now I don’t matter? To clarify, I know that I do matter. And it’s why I can recognize it when I’m being treated as if I don’t.

It might be more helpful to ask “What does it mean to honor someone?” At minimum wouldn’t we show up on time and be fully present once there? The habitually late who want to see themselves as free spirits as opposed to as passive aggressive control freaks who can’t think of a better way to claim their power will cringe to hear that honoring your word by being on time matters. Your calendar might try to prove helplessness. It is crammed with soccer games, good causes, appointments, even double-bookings. My first impulse is to make reassurances. We’ve all been late. Nobody is perfect. But this is off the topic. Instead, I refer you to this unapologetic article about tardiness in which self-respect requires directly and gently confronting those who keep us waiting.

People who talked to me for QuOTeD also tended to want apologies to be coupled with change. Does being grateful accomplish this? No. But it does suggest what I can expect from you in the future. The lack of an apology indicates that no change is needed. Moreover, what you don’t say is up for interpretation. When you change the subject (i.e., say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry”) I might conclude that under (your) terms of this relationship it is not acceptable to voice my dissatisfaction. I am to be silent about feeling annoyed and disrespected. This is the definition of dysfunction.

What you do say is also up for interpretation because you are not being straight, which has been the problem all along. Thanking me for something I didn’t willingly give you is another way to tell me that you’re in charge and that I can expect more of the same. You’ll continue to be some kind of lovable pocket-picking airhead that is incapable of anticipating traffic and I’ll play the supporting actor who serves to absolve you of your guilt by “accepting you as you are” at the expense of my own dignity.

To put it in the harshest terms, your self-love is buttressed by my self-hatred.

Apologies such as “sorry I’m late” sound hollow because they’re commonly offered without pausing enough to mean what we say. They’re filled with clichés about (self-imposed) emergencies, (predictable) traffic jams and (supposedly) lofty priorities. But instead of dropping the shallow apology, what about deepening it? What about just being sincere? What about intentionally honoring people? For me, it’s not that I’m incapable of getting my mother’s birthday card in the mail on time, which (it pains me to say) I don’t always do. It’s that I have never thought about it in these terms: Honoring her. What if I did? Might that change my behavior without perfection becoming the unreachable goal that constantly nags me? In any case, if you’re always late and don’t intend to make any adjustments, no apology is necessary. At some point it’s on me to decide whether I want to continue to make plans with someone who is unreliable or fill-in-the-blank, but that’s another story and again one that is addressed in this article.

But what about the apologies that really are driven by insecurities and self-hatred? For example, I don’t need to apologize to the plumber because my house is a mess. However, nor do I need to thank him or her for excusing it. And as mentioned before, these aren’t really apologies anyway as they aren’t intended to empathize with another person by diving into their reality. They’re just words intended to ease our own discomfort. They’re social niceties. Is that the end of the world? Regardless, no one will care if we ditch them.

Mrs. Roosevelt apologizes to students for the disarray of the White House rooms which are being prepared for air raids.[Collins, Marjory, 1912-1985, photographer Washington, D.C. 1942 Feb. Library of Congress. Under the auspices of the Bureau of University Travel and the National Capital School Visitors' Council, over 200 high school students chosen for their intellectual alertness visited Washington for a week. Mrs. Roosevelt apologizes to students for the disarray of the White House rooms which are being prepared for air raids.]

On the other hand, what if you ruin my favorite sweater? Are you going to apologize and try to make it right? Or are you going to thank me for not being materialistic and accepting that you’re no Martha Stewart in the laundry room? I’d hate to think of what a person like this would say should I find them screwing my husband! These are extreme examples and probably not the point of the post. But it’s helpful to see where the logic takes us. It breaks down with a capful of Clorox.

Keep it real, people. Say you’re sorry when you’ve done something wrong.

What’s going on here in Chicago?

Can we recognize a city by its sound, sort of like recognizing the sound of a mother’s voice?

In this episode…

Sometimes Chicago sounded like a casino. Other times a war zone with its relentless wailing of sirens and the whirring of helicopters that hovered almost within reach of the crowds at Millennium Park. Black Lives Matter is trying to get our attention. Sometimes Chicago sounded like a carnival. Sometimes a church. Mixed in there were the street musicians playing for change, reminding me of the time I got lost in Brussels looking for the Sleep Well. This is not Saint Paul or Minneapolis. It makes me wonder if a person would be able to identify their hometown based on a recording, sort of like the sound of a mother’s voice.

People talk and I record them. This is not Chicago any more than the pictures I saw people taking of the Trump Tower would epitomize the city. It’s just a snapshot of a particular time and place. I wish I could have done more. I missed a lot, even the rumbling of the “L” from overhead. I’d like to go back.

Thank you…

  • Greg, our mailman and a fellow Red Sox fan.
  • Cory Mottaz, On Air Personality/Voice Talent.
  • Autumn Day Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
    Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0


In the name of free association, coincidence and curiosity here are some show links.

Trump Building in Chicago
[We saw a lot of tourists taking this shot.]

  • Ross, Max. (2016, July 16). A family undergoes renovations at Walker Art Center. Star Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/
    Taking pictures of people taking pictures of art takes Brian’s observation to a new level.
  • I’m uncomfortable with how comfortable we are with our growing preference for the company of robots over people. I wish everyone would read this book.


[Our mailbox.]

Baseball came up a lot…

Because Mr. Brook wanted to talk about the Chicago Bulls…

I pull out what little I know, which is that the Timberwolve’s (my team) recently hired Tom Thibodeau who won nearly 65 percent of his games in five seasons with the Bulls. But then Brook changed the subject…

Mentioned in the conversation with the protester at the Taste of Chicago at Millennium Park…

The TV screens that plastered the walls of the hotel restaurant flashed from one crime scene to another. Baton Rouge. Saint Paul and eventually Dallas.

In the meantime, a group of Black Hebrew Israelites were preaching…

After a brief encounter, I wondered who their audience was.

I do not have nor want a smart phone and other reasons I’m concerned about the disappearance of taxis…

When my neighbor showed me his Uber app and raved about how great the service is, it’s hard to argue with the genius of the idea that connects drivers to those needing a lift. Yet I’m not convinced that we have thought this through.

Related to the conversation about Dr. Seuss, the artist and sculptor…

A great dinner experience on Michigan Avenue in Chicago

  • Bandera – We count on an exceptional meal at some point in our travels. The last time we were in Chicago it was a place in Chinatown. This time it was Bandera. Wow!
Also suggested Chicago dinner spots were…

[A view from our hotel room.]

T-shirts and Poetry Games

Brian and I were just in Chicago where I attended the Podcast Movement ’16 conference. I’m currently working on a QuOTeD episode that documents the extra day we spent in the Windy City after the conference. As we bummed around, with the exception of advertisements, I started to note the words people were wearing on t-shirts. I wondered if they could be strung together to either snap a sort of picture of the day or a specific time and place in the culture.

Woman in t-shirt
By Friedrich Haag (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The t-shirts we saw were:

Chicks dig diamonds.
Save Ferris. (this turns out to be a band, which technically should not be included)
Run faster.
Kicking your ass one step at a time.
I am culture.
Swoosh. (this might be a Nike ad)
Time to shine.
Look on the bright side.
Play like a champion today.
Keep calm and dream big.
Better sore than sorry.
You can put it on the chalkboard.
It’s Go Time.
Detroit vs. Everyone
I’m awesome!

Writing Exercise Using Words on T-Shirts

What rules could be applied to a writing exercise using the given phrases? We could start with:

  1. Arrange the phrases as is in any order.
  2. Insert line breaks and punctuation as you like.

I came up with the following:

Chicks dig.
Diamonds save.
Ferris run faster.
Your ass.
Step at a time I am.
To shine look on.
The bright, side play like.
A champion today keep.
Dream big better
Sore than sorry you can
Put it on
The Chalkboard
It’s Go Time
Detroit vs. everyone.
I’m awesome!

This needs work. Maybe the initial list of phrases could have been arranged better? Or maybe more rules would help. For example:

  1. Contractions can be made or undone.
  2. Verb tenses can be changed.
  3. Up to 10 words can be deleted (we could also say “must be deleted”).
  4. Homonyms can be used.

The list of rules could go on. Finding the right parameters that make a game a game would take some trial and error. Given the rules above, here’s another version.

Chicks Dig.
Diamonds save.
Ferris Run faster.
Your ass. one step
at a time I am.

To Shine.
On the bright side
Play. like.
A Champion today.

Dream big better.
Sore then sorry you can
Put it on.

The Chalkboard.
It’s Go time.
Detroit vs. everyone.
I am.


This could lend itself to a round-robin exercise. Randomly selecting the next rule to apply with dice or cards could work. So the game might look like this.

  1. On a piece of paper, arrange the phrases as is in any order.
  2. Pass your paper to another player.
  3. Using the list you just received, insert line breaks and punctuation as you like.
  4. Pass your paper to another player.
  5. Draw a card to reveal the next rule to apply and apply it.
  6. Continue to do this until…

How would we know when the game is over? Is there a timer or a set number of rules that can be applied? How is a winner determined? Can works get eliminated along the way? Or do they all make it to the final round? How would that work? One piece gets eliminated and another is duplicated so that every player participates in every round? This would mean that one piece is on two tracks, which might be interesting. Are there bonuses for certain moves? Penalties? The equivalent of buying a vowel? Are there certain moves that can be made at any time, regardless of what rule card is drawn? Can rules be invented? Is there a board? Pawns? A deck of cards?

I like the idea of a final round where each player selects a piece to make final edits. It does not necessarily have to be the piece they originated. In this round the player would have a lot of latitude. Maybe there would be no rules in this round. The scoring system could reward the originator and the final editor. This is a foggy idea, but I wanted to jot it down in case it’s worth more consideration.

I’m seeing a bingo grid.

How would we know who wins? Is it an accumulation of points earned by certain moves? A vote for the best? The problem with a point system is that it creates a motivation that is separate from writing what you want to write. And a subjective vote doesn’t feel satisfying either.

Or maybe it can just be amusing.

Purpose vs. Happiness, Another Take

Sixteen years ago, a friend and I found ourselves talking about purpose. The following is a partial transcript from that conversation. I had just made a comment about how “knowing yourself” always seemed to be the promise of the next stage of life. When you’re thirty, this. When you’re forty that. When you’re fifty…

Paint swatch on white wall. Why did you wander into the room? What's your purpose?
Paint swatch on white wall.

Incidentally, the original Question of the Day was “Tell me about a wake-up call that informs the way you live your life today.”

My words are in bold. Everything else is my friend.

Why did you wander into the room?

At some point you come up with the idea… at least I think I have… um… That basically…. If it’s not an answer, it’s, it’s, it’s a path. You want freedom. I want my freedom. It’s like, I’ve decided that I’m not going to jump through any more hoops, you know. If I get sick I’m going to wander off into the woods and die. You know, I just… I don’t care anymore. I just don’t care. I just… It’s my life. I’m in control. This is my life. And I’m not going to go through any more hoops. You know it’s like…

What kind of hoops?

Well… ahh… about what you do and when you do it. And what’s important… Basically, what’s important. It’s the idea of prioritizing what’s important. Because the fundamental question is staring us all in the eyes. “What am I supposed to do with my life?” “Why am I here?” “Why?” “Why?” It’s not like, “What will make me happy?” You know. I mean, “What will make me happy?” It’s like, it’s that simple. Take a pill, you know. Eat a chocolate bar. It’s, it’s, it’s uh… “What am I supposed to be doing?” “Why am I here?” You know.

You go into a room… You ever do this? You go into a room. You think “Oh my gosh! I forgot why I walked into this room.” I think that’s why we… what… what… the fix we’re in. We walked into this life and we forgot why we’re here. And it’s like, oh my gosh! So you can’t walk back because you don’t know where you came from. You’re stuck. So, at some point you go, “Oh my gosh! It’s absolutely important. I’ve got to figure out why I’m here.”

And some people say, “I haven’t a freaking clue. I’m just going to be as cozy as I can.” Those are the people who get real frustrated ’cause they just go from bottle to pill to vicarious experience to whatever thrill-seeking moment looking for something. Looking, looking, looking. Never finding what they want. And I think the thing is finding contentment in being alive. And contentment would only come with doing what you, what you… remembering what you’re supposed to do. It’s like knowing what you’re supposed to do. Feeling comfortable in doing what you’re supposed to do. Fundamentally, what is that? It’s like, very few of us find out what it is.

Society doesn’t help us… at all… in the discovery process. It’s says “Okay, uh… we’re going to give you some focus. Okay, I want you to stand here, look in that direction and when something comes down, you just give it a shot.” It’s like… I mean they just line us up like people on an assembly line. Whether it’s going through school, as a child, as an adult, as a worker… uh… as a family member, as a spouse, as a child as a parent. And it’s like your roles get defined for you by society. It says, “Okay, we’re going to give you some focus.” And all that does is keep society going. It doesn’t help you in the discovery process. So we’ve become like a whole group of totally confused chaotic people. ‘Cause we still have this fundamental problem. “Why did we wander into the room?” “Why did we come here?” And it’s like… I think that’s why people are totally perplexed about their lives.

Why did you wander into the room?


Don’t know.

What do you make of… um… being certain. “This is what I’m supposed to do!” And feeling confident. Maybe going weeks. And then the inspiration leaving you?

Oh, yeah.

Where does inspiration come from and why does it leave?

I think some people, uh… They’re looking for some kind of like uh… spark of like some guidance or some spark of inspiration. And uh… Let’s say they see something and say, “Oh, that’s great. That’s, that’s for me. That’s it. And they do this for a couple of months or a year or two years. And then, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m kind of disillusioned. I didn’t really want to be a Hare Krishna .” You know. “I didn’t really want to take up…” you know, “pottery. You get all dirty.” You know, “It seemed good at the time, but now what do I do with all of this stuff?” So, I mean people are just looking for these kind of answers. I think a few people actually kind of get close.

Like who?

Who are the lucky ones? Those who know or those who are engaged in finding their life’s purpose?

Well people that they just know from an early age what they’re supposed to do and they do it. And they do it really, really well. “[inaudible]… child prodigies like musicians like five-year-old child prodigies. They were born remembering why they were here. It’s like, there’s no other explanation for a child prodigy or like a child who’s born with just great mathematical genius skills and they’re in college when they’re seven years old doing upper mathematics. I don’t think that’s an accident. I think they were just born remembering. They found themselves. They’re the lucky ones who found themselves.

For the rest of us, I don’t know. It’s like maybe, maybe the discovery process… I think the discovery process is maybe what’s important. Maybe we’re the lucky ones? Because it’s the finding that’s important. Finding ourselves. When you get there, it’s probably okay. But, well, I mean it’s the first goal ahead of you. So, naturally it moves [inaudible]… I just think there would be tremendous satisfaction, comfort peace and joy and uh… a sense of bliss in finally discovering and doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Whatever that is.

Safety First, Revenge Second

“Safety First, Revenge Second”, Who wrote it? Why? Why there? What does it bring to mind?

Written on the sidewalk a few blocks from the house we read, “Safety 1st, Revenge 2nd”. A poetic threat? I imagined hooligans busting out the chalk.

Safety 1st, Revenge 2nd
Safety 1st, Revenge 2nd

Revenge: Junior high girls exact their revenge on a the meanest math teacher in the world and somehow survive adolescence despite a daily dose of humiliation.

by Rebekah Smith

My eighth grade math teacher humiliated me daily. Borrowing a pencil drew ridicule no less than giving the wrong answer. In the first case you were a leech who expected others to prop you up. In the second, you were just stupid. I was badgered because I was a military brat who had arrived out of nowhere, shared no history with my peers and had no ties to ranching; my teacher was a cowboy. I was responsible for the B-52s that rumbled overhead, spooking the cattle and seizing the flow of milk. He said that I was ringleader, a word intended to make me shrink and it did. When I was dragged to the principal’s office for trying to be like the popular girls who held hands with boys in the hallway, my teacher predicted that I’d never graduate. I was on track to becoming a teen mom, he said. I probably wouldn’t amount to much.

And yet I was smarter than them, Mr. Portland and the co-conspirator principal, Ed Stitchie. (Stitchie had once punished three of my girlfriends and me by forcing us to stand in front of his desk on our toes and with our hands above our heads while he watched with his feet up on the desk. I was 32 before I realized this made him a creep.) As these goons stood over me, forcing me to dial home with confessions of my latest delinquencies, salivating in anticipation of my disgrace, I called the neighbor instead. Having asserted my depravity, I started to hang up when these clowns jumped up and demanded, “Tell him about the finger!”

“Oh, yeah”, I said. “I also gave my math teacher the finger.”

As soon as Portland turned his back on me on our way to the principal’s office, I flipped him off and as my dumb luck would have it, Stitchie swung around the corner just in time to make the bust. I described this to my dad’s stand-in on the other end of the line with a flatness that totally confused my teacher and the equally vile administrator. Why wasn’t I torn up? My parents must be horrible people, they speculated. Disengaged. Fine by me, I thought. My parents are horrible people. Or maybe Portland and his pal Stitchie were just stupid.

Compared to a classmate, a shaggy dirty blonde who sat behind me to my right, I didn’t have it so bad. Even as I routinely left Portlands’s class shaken enough to give my home ec teacher cause to inquire but never enough to give her a reason to press it, that kid got it worse. I don’t remember his name. But I can still hear Portland screeching it. I was Miss Smith and he was Mister Something. As if he were talking about a mathematical proof instead of a human being, the teacher explained that Mister Something was the sort who did this and the sort who believed that. In other words, he was trouble. A loser. Every day Mister Something had the guts to show up to class, Portland struck him down without provocation, well before the kid had a chance to straighten himself to see what he could see from a school desk that must seem tiny to him now, to him, a grown man. Boys don’t cry so unlike me, Mister Something didn’t. Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to him. And then I try to forget.

Retaliation against Portland was a group effort that took many forms. There was a chastising letter that was meticulously plucked out on Julie’s mother’s typewriter and signed “concerned parent”. We looked up every word in the dictionary as not to blow our cover as the adult who was created to protect us. Watching Portland react to the letter with agitation that briefly peeled back the thin shroud of authority he used to punish and demean, exposing him for a pathetic grown man who bullies children – watching the cracks surface with every second he surveyed the hallways in a desperate aim to nab the prick who had slipped the letter onto the podium from which he ruled – was worth whatever trouble that might come down. It was just too good.

We plastered “Wanted” posters all over the school. The hallways, of course. Bathrooms. Locker rooms. The rarely used elevators for which we needed a key. Check. Penetrating the teacher’s lounge with Julie’s spot-on caricature of Portland was a tasty conquest. Imagine his blockish head, that flattop, the unibrow and those black-rimmed glasses staring out from the center of the bulletin board at a bunch of teachers eating tuna sandwiches. The poster read: “Sees all. Hears all. Knows all.” Recalling it makes me laugh because, first of all, it was funny and in hindsight I realize it’s a big reason why I survived junior high.

There was also my favorite antic, something I would later appreciate as performance art. Before the first bell and after lunch, students would gather in the school’s lobby, the perfect setting to unwind an entire spool of thread. Weaving in and out of the crowd until a third of the student body was entangled in a giant invisible web would have been sufficient amusement. But Portland would see fit to grant us the hilarious image of him punching the air with the empty spool, shaking his fists, yelling… He was always yelling.

Twelve years later my niece was assigned to Portland’s class. Not wanting to make a stink before there was cause, my sister took my warnings with a grain of salt and didn’t request a transfer. She would learn the hard way: the man was a dangerous jerk. Portland would eventually tell my sister that her daughter was failing math because she was a girl. That could have been the end of this story, a satisfying verification of my reality as the man’s student. But it wasn’t.

When I was a young adult in my 20’s I worked at the English as a Second Language (ESL) Center, which was housed in the same school with Portland. On occasion I encountered him in the infamous teacher’s lounge and once on a bus a bunch of teachers chartered for a trip to Deadwood, South Dakota’s Vegas. I immediately won 50 dollars on a giant slot machine that towered over the casino. I gave a one dollar coin to a friend and then quit gambling for the rest of the night. It was on that trip that my eighth-grade English teacher told a dirty joke that began “What do men and linoleum have in common?”

I wondered if Portland remembered me. Did he know my face? Would it help if I cried? Mostly, I avoided him, which was easy to do but not always possible. There was the day I took my ESL students, little kids, to visit a seventh-grade classroom that had been decorated like the rain forest. The lights were turned down. A tape recorder played the sound of water and exotic birds. There were paper mache trees and flowers made of construction paper. It was nice. It was peaceful.

Just outside of the classroom door, the rain forest teacher and I could hear the screaming coming from the floor below. It was Portland. Some kid wasn’t going to amount to anything.

“He does this all of the time,” she told me, sort of shrugging her shoulders as if nothing could be done.

Believe me I know.

It had never occurred to me that anyone would have been standing within earshot when Portland was going after me. I imagine they’d cast a dirty look in Portland’s general direction and then quietly shut the classroom door, just like what we were doing now.

I might have been reassured had I turned to see a “Wanted” poster with Portland’s blockish head on it staring back at me from bathroom door.