Calculated Randomness and the Quest for Understanding

Written by Monkeybrad on February 5th, 2009

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Over the last few weeks, I have noticed a flurry of “25 Random Things About Me” posts circulating around the social networking sites.  I think it is an  awesome way for people to connect and get to know one another better, but I take issue with the use of the word “random”.  I mean, you get to choose the things you share, and looking at what people choose to share, it is obvious that they are making a calculated effort to show you facets of their personality or life that will portray them in a particular light.  Not quite random, but beautiful, nonetheless. So why do we choose to share these things?

The fact of the matter is, we all want to be understood.  I know that this is no big revelation, but beyond that we want people to know that we have depth, that our characters are fully fleshed out and that even though we may only play a supporting role in your drama, we are all stars in our own shows.

Just to get things rolling before I get to the meat and potatoes portion of this post, to prove the point and because I love the formatting of the “quote” box, let’s take a look at the definition of  “random” according to Dictionary.com:

random

[ran-duhm]
–adjective

1. proceeding, made, or occurring without definite aim, reason, or pattern: the random selection of numbers.
2. Statistics. of or characterizing a process of selection in which each item of a set has an equal probability of being chosen.

There you go, unless you put every conceivable fact about yourself into a giant metaphysical hat and drew 25 of them “without definite aim, reason or pattern” and posted them on the web, then your facts are not random. Which means you chose to share them for some reason.  I am guessing that they were chosen to show some side of your personality or past that you are proud of, some piece of yourself that you think will give people a greater insight into who you are, or more importantly, who you want to be.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it is awesome.  I have honestly learned several things about good friends that I did not know and the insight into their personalities and pasts has been intriguing to say the least.  I have learned things that I always knew, but never thought would be said in public and I have been inspired to reconsider my preconceived notions in a couple of cases.  It has certainly been educational.

Anyway, thinking this way has led me to examine my own “25 Calculated Statements About Me” as posted on Facebook last week, to see what my possible motivations were.  I apologize in advance for the incredible self-indulgence of this post, it happens sometimes.  For the record, when I made the list I did not actually ponder this stuff, this is a post-mortem examination.

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25 “Random” Things About Me, with commentary

1. I have done way more than I can remember and am not surprised when friends remember things that I did and have no recollection of, but I always remember the people. This is a true statement, as evidenced by a friend’s follow-ups to this list, I was probably trying to cover my bases if I missed something really cool like being set on fire or stabbed on stage in front of an audience.

2. I made my living in live theatre, either acting, designing or building for several years.  This is a tip of the hat to the people who I have met in the last 10-15 years, who never knew me when I lived vampire hours and always had a script or sketchbook in hand, it also points out that I have had more than one career and have done some exciting things, plus it helps to explain my need for acceptance from total strangers and my comfort in front of crowds.

3. I have never roller or ice skated, but I can juggle.  I wanted to work in the juggling thing, but hated to use an entire statement on it, plus I genuinely would like to go skating sometime, so I hoped that by admitting it someone would invite me to go skating without me having to ask.  Honestly, I am a little scared to try, I don’t bounce as well as I used to.  For the record, I used to skateboard all the time, so I have got that going for me.

4. I was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in High School and went to college on a full “Quiz Bowl” scholarship and was once 2 of the top 8 collegiate players in the country. (We changed divisions halfway through the year, between divisional tournaments, so I was the top scorer in division 5 and 6 for one year.)  This is an obvious “look how clever I am” statement.  Funny because I used to get so much of my self-worth and confidence from being clever, I thought I was over that, but there it is.  I always thought the being “two of the top eight” thing was cool, one of those weird combinations of talent and luck, that I love.

5. If you travel around Gaylord properties in Nashville and Orlando you can still see several examples of my design and artwork on display.  Kind of like the theatre thing, this is an obvious cry for validation.  I am clearly throwing it out there that not only did I do a lot of this kind of thing, but that I am good enough for big clients to use me and that my work has staying power.  Sad really.

6. I am married to a kindred spirit who gets me, who I love incredibly.  This was the most calculated statement at the time, since I wanted to be sure to mention my wife and how much I truly love her, but in retrospect it is one of the most honest statements.  A big part of the joy I have in my life is due to the fact that I am lucky enough to share it with someone so special, who puts up with my idiosyncrasies.

7. My grandfather was the artist who drew the original little guy on the Tennessee Pride Sausage packs.  This one is pretty straight-forward.  He was a typesetter by trade for a packaging company in Nashville and did the sketch for the little dude.  I loved him dearly, he passed away in the late 80’s, and glancing at the package in the grocery always made me think of him.  I know that this is an odd thing to be proud of, but I always thought it was cool that he had a piece of work out there that thousands of people see everyday.  A couple of years ago I was in a Publix store when I had the realization that I had designed the packaging for all of the products on the endcap directly across the aisle from the Tennessee Pride display.  It was an odd “circle of life” moment that made me smile and gave me a newfound pride in my own work.

8. I am directly descended from members of the Dalton gang.  It’s true I have outlaw roots and I am probably a little too proud of them.  I am sure it has something to do with too much Tom Robbins in my literary diet. I am also the great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandnephew of George Washington.

9. If it has wheels, I can drive it. I have driven every kind of car, truck or tractor you can imagine, ridden motorcycles, flown planes and even driven a diesel locomotive.  I have always been fascinated with transportation and the freedom it brings.  My first escape vehicles were bicycles and skateboards, followed by motorcycles, ATV’s and boats on up through every kind of land conveyance imaginable.  If there is something strange I will go out of my way to try to drive it.  My dad is a pilot and FAA certified instructor and I learned to fly before I could legally drive, although I never got my pilot’s license.  The real point of this one though, is I once got to drive a diesel locomotive, just like a real engineer, and that is cool.

10. My response to avians ranges from mild discomfort to full-on terror.  I am afraid of birds.  It is silly, but true.  I usually offer a whole litany of things I have faced without fear including snakes, alligators and bears to try to compensate for it, but the fact is I have to fight myself to keep from freaking out when faced with my fine feathered friends.  I am sure it has something to do with being flogged by a rooster when I was little or being chased by guineas on my great aunt’s farm.  This is one of those non-flattering things you throw in there to make the rest of the statements seem more genuine.

11. I am comfortable in most environments but very rarely feel like I belong in any of them, the quintessential tourist.  This seems like a throw-away, but it is a hidden truism.  Of course, on the surface it gives the impression of a deep and tortured soul, and it appeals to the misfit in each of us, but underneath it does show one of my driving factors.  I really am a tourist, just checking things out, never getting too deeply involved in “local” activities.  Some would call this emotional detachment, others would call it pretentious BS, you be the judge.

12. I thrive on “peak experiences” and honestly take more than my fair share.  I go out of my way to do exciting things and I make a lot of my decisions based on what will create the coolest memories so I am cheating a little on “peak experiences” by actively seeking them.  I am also cursed with a nagging guilt, that my frivolous lifestyle is keeping me from doing responsible, rewarding things like settling down and having children.  I am funny that way, everything has to balance.  I guess this is a less than subtle reminder to people that my life is “too cool”.

13. I was once bitten by a rattlesnake, I am now twice shy.  It’s true and bizarre enough to warrant a mention.  The bite itself was fairly mundane, I reached under something and a snake bit me.  The silly part is I kept working because I was trying to finish a project.  A couple of hours later, I decided to go home because I really did not feel well, and then I opted to ride into town with my father to visit my grandfather who was in the hospital, just in case I got to feeling worse.  It was lucky I did, by the time we got to the emergency room they had to help me walk in and I was having trouble breathing.  One incredibly, painful shot, some time and a steroid pack later and I was fine.  This story has always been attributed to my stubbornness, but the real secret of my deciding to “tough out” a rattlesnake bite is, I was a broke artist and I did not have health insurance.  You have to watch that pride, it will get you.

14. Although I have done lots of good work in a couple of different fields, I am surprisingly insecure. Luckily, I cover this with over-confidence and bravado, which I then have to back up with competence, it is a vicious cycle.  Not much to say here, except sometimes it is good to slip something in to reassure people that you know you are broken and that you are working on it.

15. I did make it to Opryland, but not with the people I expected to go with.  In reading other people’s posts I was amazed at some of the things they confessed, so I decided to slip in this confession.  Seven people saw this and five laughed their heads off, one was upset that she did not make the trip and the other is upset that I did.  I will not explain this statement for two reasons: 1. A monkey has to have some secrets.  2.  It adds to the mystery.

16. People who only have to deal with me occasionally often love me and think I am wonderful, those who see me daily know better. Apparently, I am best taken in small doses.  My wife is constantly amazed at people’s response to me and this is the only way I can explain it to her.  This is also my response as to why people seem to enjoy this blog, you get to have a little slice of me on your own terms, that is way better than having to  have an entire serving.  I am like anything mildly entertaining, too much familiarity and the charm is gone.  Remember when The Wizard of Oz only came on television once a year?

17. Moody does not even begin to describe it, but the highs are fun.  I am a moody bastard, flighty as can be and I cannot help it.  Some people chalk it up to “artistic temperament” or a small chemical imbalance.  It could just as easily be the byproduct of being a late 30-something spoiled brat who wavers back and forth between being a responsible adult and a petulant child.  This is a sort of backhanded apology to those who have to deal with my darker moments and a reminder that the wheel will come around again and then the joy begins.

18. I am not a cat or a dog person, I am a people person. Yes, we are talking about pets.  I love our dog and I love our cat, but I am not really a pet person. I would much rather spend my time playing with people, giving them love and scratching their bellies.  This is essentially a smartass frivolous statement thrown out there to remind everyone that you cannot take me too seriously because I might not be joking.  I like to play, get over it.

19. I collect art and experiences, travel is my drug of choice.  This was an off the cuff response to a question a year ago about what I collect.  As it turns out it was so honest and pure that it changed the way I look at my life.  I have almost always based my decisions on what option would create the coolest memories.  If I have my way, minstrels really will write songs about me.  My parents drug me all over this hemisphere and I have a serious case of wanderlust.  The fact that I have not been somewhere before is enough for me, and I go for the immersion experience, eating where the locals eat, skipping the tourist stuff and trying to see what it is like to live there.  I Know this seems to contradict an earlier statement about being the ultimate tourist, life is funny like that.  I also love beautiful things, so when I can, I surround myself with them.

20. I was once the #6 geocacher in the world, measured by caches found, but I got over it.  My obsessive personality and a natural ability to notice things that are slightly out of place led me to be really good at this sport.  This is kind of like the quiz bowl thing, a not so quiet plea for validation.  Look at how good at this I am.  Happily, I have no idea where I rank anymore and though I still find a lot of them, I am more focused on using the sport to reach more of those “peak experiences” .

21. I used to hustle pool for money and I was good at it, I got over that too.  See above, although this one also hints that I am the kind of guy who has spent a lot of time hanging around seedy pool halls deceiving people, so it has a more sinister air.

22. I make the world’s best duck flambe’…actually that is a lie, but I am a hell of a cook, when I take the notion.  A tip of the hat to the Dropkick Murphy’s opens this fairly simple statement, I am a good cook.  I love to prepare meals and bake.  This shows a down-to-earth side of my personality, reminding everyone just how luck my wife is to come home to a dude like me.

23. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes and it changed my life, for the better.  This is a weird one for me, but it is a simple fact.  If I don’t include it, then people who know about it will think I am embarrassed about it, which I am not, so it had to make the list.  For those who have known me for a long time, but have not touched base lately, it explains the 130 pound weight loss over the last couple of years.  I have a chip on my shoulder about my size and disease, I am always trying to prove that I can do anything that any “normal” person can do.  This leads me on long hikes and to the tops of mountains, it also pushes me to prominent positions.  The big guy is going to be heard.

24. I really do believe that I can do anything, if I decide to try.  See above.  I am the poster child for potential.  I have had every advantage,  I am not the product of a broken home, although there were lean times, compared to much of the population I have always lived in comparable comfort, I am naturally strong and grew large and tall, it is impolite to say it, but I have an embarrassingly high IQ and the support and love of friends and family, yet I am only moderately successful.  I could blame it on my short attention span and the fact that I have chosen to be more of a renaissance man than a specialist, but that is not honest.  The fact is I have almost always been afraid to fully commit to anything, to really “try”.  So my halfhearted attempts yield half hearted successes.  This leads to a certain amount of guilt and self-loathing which makes me not want to try, another of those vicious cycles.  But I have done it enough to truly believe that there is nothing that is outside my reach, if I want it.  It is just so damned hard to motivate myself to really want something enough to risk actual, absolute failure.

25. I love everybody, especially you.  A line from one of the greatest lyrical poets of our time,  Lyle Lovett, but it is so true.  I do not suffer fools or bores, if you are in my circle it is because I love you.  Life is too short to spend it with people you do not love.

26. Sometimes, I change the rules.  Silly attempt at cleverness and a reminder that I may not do what you expect, so watch out.  It has been gratifying, though, to see this one emulated as the chain keeps going.

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So, what have we learned?  I used to think that I was special, that I was the only one grappling with feelings of self-doubt and yearning for something more.  I thought that this special understanding of myself made me a more complete and superior person and that I had discovered a deep, dark secret of the world, that “normal” people could not fathom.  Now I know that I am special and unique, just like everyone else.

We all struggle with our own demons.  We sit in traffic, trapped in our little metal cocoons, kept safe from the ordinary world all around us, never realizing that the person in the next car, is struggling with those same questions. Am I good enough?  Why doesn’t he/she love me?  Where did I go wrong?  Why do I feel guilty for having/not having children?  The list goes on and on.  It is an important part of the human condition and there is no more emotional self-examination in the coffeehouses and bars than there is on the sidelines at the kid’s soccer game.

We all crave understanding, a sense that we belong, that people can empathize with us, and forgive us our shortcomings.  So, what does that take?  Well the first step is opening up and sharing a piece of yourself with the world and if it takes a silly viral “25 Random Things About Me” note to start that process, then I am all for it.  Thank you all for sharing 25 carefully calculated things about yourself, the insight into the person you want to be is a great gift.  We are all in this world together and none of us are going to get out of it alive, so the best we can do is help each other along the journey, and sometimes the biggest help is just knowing that you are not making the journey alone.

We are all walking the same trail...

We are all walking the same trail...

Since I mentioned Aunt Maxine’s chickens and my love of baking, it seems fitting to share the recipe for her awesome Strawberry Bread.  Although it is cold here, some of the best strawberries in the world are nearly ready for the picking in Plant City, Florida.  If you get a chance swing by the Florida Strawberry Festival it is a once in a lifetime experience, unless you choose to go every year.  If you happen to see the ghost of my childhood there, tell him I am doing fine, but I still think about him once in a while.

Aunt Maxine’s Strawberry Bread
Preheat oven to 350°

Mix together:
3 cups plain flour
2 cups sugar
3 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp soda

and make well in center.  Then mix:

4 beaten eggs
1 cup oil of shortening

in a separate bowl:

Pour egg and oil mixture in well then add
1.25 pounds of mashed strawberries
1 cup chopped nuts (I use walnuts, but any or none will do)

Mix well Pour into loaf pan or pans
Bake @ 350° for 50-60 minutes

I hope you enjoy this recipe, one of my favorite memories of staying with Aunt Maxine is picking fresh strawberries from the garden and helping her and Great Grandma make this bread, then going to the milk barn to get fresh milk to make our own butter for the bread while it baked.  We would then sit on her huge front porch and enjoy our treat washed down with a cold glass of fresh-squeezed moo juice.  It is not quite the same with store bought milk and butter, but it is still about as good as it gets, and it keeps well, wrapped up in a piece of wax paper in your pack as you hike with the rest of us.  Until next time, I’ll see you on the trail…

 

3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Melissa says:

    Well put. It didn’t occur to me how calculated the “random” list was until I read your post. I found I picked the least desirable things about myself in an attempt to appear genuine & less calculated.(Nevermind I’m a chronic self loather!)I know the majority ridicules those social network posts, but I find them fascinating. Learning about people I’ve known nearly all my life and those I barely know, make me feel more alive, an acknowledged part of this universe. Maybe next time I won’t keep all the juicy details for myself…

  2. sDuck says:

    Very nice! After reading all that, I still think you’re a cool guy.

  3. Tater says:

    Loved the post and all the commentary. I learned quite a bit about you. And after all that I still think you & Scoot are the some of the greatest people I know and care to associate with.

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