Shitty First Draft

“I would love for this draft to be shitty”… said just about nobody ever.

No matter the topic or length or intention for the piece, writing begins with a first draft that usually leaves much to be desired. But it is this first draft that is the most important, for, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts” (Bird by Bird). Writing is one of those things that is really fun when everything is going well, but instantly becomes a miserable experience when faced with a speed bump in the road. Writing begins with a simple idea that slowly grows throughout the writing process. As more time is spent with it and more attention is given, the piece takes on a personality of its own, almost as if it were a living entity itself. And eventually it matures into a gorgeous masterpiece.

Anne Lamott is a writer and novelist, and in her book Bird by Bird she describes the need for what she refers to as “shitty first drafts”. Below is an excerpt from that book.

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft — you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft — you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.

~Anne Lamott  

(Bird by Bird

Down drafts, up drafts, dental drafts – sounds like a blast. And maybe that’s the key to writing, that it’s not always fun. Sometimes it’s difficult, messy, aggravating, frustrating, plus whatever four letter word you would like to insert. But it’s important. It’s important to write and it’s important to be able to write well.

Although not using the exact same words, my social studies teacher from high school would refer to first drafts as letting your brain throw up. It’s a strange concept to realize, but at least in my experience the best ideas, the most perfect sentences and eloquent words, have come from simply letting my brain throw up on the paper and then searching for those precious gems in all the vomit, as opposed to not putting anything down on paper and hoping that the gems will reveal themselves on their own.

In the book Lamott also mentions how even great writers have to go through the pain of first drafts. For me personally, when I think of great writers I automatically think of J.K. Rowling (through seven books, the woman created a world of magic that influenced an entire generation). And imagining Rowling having to throw up on her paper or having to reshape an entire chapter or even having an editor mark up her manuscript with blood red ink (gasp!), sort of makes me smile a bit. If great writers didn’t have to go through first drafts, then Rowling would be able to sit down, write a book, then send it straight to the printers, no questions asked. And I think even those most envious of the women’s talents knows that that’s not how things work.

Now granted, her first draft may be a lot better than your first draft. To you her first draft may even look like a perfect first draft. But it’s still a shitty first draft at the end of the day. If shitty first drafts are just a thing of life, then being a good writer, even a great writer, is not about being immune to those shitty first drafts, but rather being able to make those first drafts a little less shittier.

How a draft goes from a pile of shit to a hanging Picasso is different for every piece you’ll ever write – an individual will never go through the writing process exactly the same way twice. It could take weeks to edit the paper you write for class while the article you write for the school’s paper could take a matter of hours to fine tune.

Something I’ve learned about writing is that part of being a great writer is simply respecting the writing process itself. That includes acknowledging that writing takes time, not becoming defeated when the piece isn’t as good as hoped for, being open to criticism during edits even when convinced that the piece is perfect, accepting the fact that sometimes the best thing to do is to spend some time away from it all, and yes, understanding the importance of first drafts.

In short, let the first draft be shitty and trust that the writing process will guide you through the rest.

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This post was partly inspired by a professor at my school who uses Lamott’s “shitty first draft” concept in her teachings (which is where I first learned about Lamott). A previous post, In The Face Of Shit, was a piece written for the writing portfolio my school requires all students to turn in and this professor just so happens to be in charge of helping students pass that portfolio.

When this semester began I told her I wanted to write my piece on Death of A Salesman. On Monday of the fifth week into the semester, I told her, fully aware of submission being due on Friday of that same week, that I hated my paper and didn’t want to write about Death of A Salesman anymore. I think most people, including myself at the time, would have had a near heart attack when facing the possibility of scrapping an entire paper that had been developing for over a month, and needed to be completed by the end of the week. When I told the professor, she responded without any hesitation or uncertainty with, “Sure. What do you want to write about instead?”.

Two things dawned on me at that moment:

1) No matter how far a piece has come or what has gone into it, the piece will never be the best it can be if the person holding the pen doesn’t like what they’re writing about. Never be afraid to completely tear down a paper and start from scratch again. It’ll get there in the end but it has to start from a good place – that good place being the motivated mindset of the writer.

2) Getting students to pass the portfolio is a high priority for this professor, but a priority that is equally as important to her, perhaps even more important, is giving students the chance to simply write about something they enjoy. And if that doesn’t make for an A-class writing professor, I don’t know what does.

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Housekeeping Note: In case you’re wondering, the idea for In The Face Of Shit came in a random moment while I was watching clips from SNL (I guess Melissa McCarthy has a special way of inspiring people), and the entire paper was written in twelve hours before the deadline. In essence, a thirteen page paper that had been scrutinized over for nearly five weeks was beaten out by a six page paper written on a whim and a lot of coffee. Writing can be a funny thing sometimes.

Raise Your Hand

Hey guys. I hope you are all winding down for the Holidays and are keeping warm. These last 3 weeks for me have been my last weeks of the semester so got a bit hectic, but I am now back in Cleveland for Winter Break.

I wanted to do one more post for the year pertaining to something a professor said this semester. This professor is like one of those flat-out awesomely amazing people. Very chill and laid back, but passionate and energetic when it comes to his field of study, as well as teaching students.

In his class he makes participation mandatory. It’s a cool 5% of one’s grade. I know that doesn’t seem like much, but just for reference let’s say there are 100 points in the entire class. If you did not participate at all and get 0 points for participation, that means even if you get every other point in the class, the highest grade you could earn is a 95% (95 out of 100 points). Factor in the reality of missing at least some of the other points, you could lose at most 2 points (93 out of 100 points) in order to earn an A in the class. Any more points lost, assuming you’re choosing to forgo the participation points, would earn at best an A- for the class.

Point in case, just participate for a free 5%.

Participation is really easy for some, but not all. I think there are two kinds of non-participatory students, those who don’t care to participate, and those who are truly too shy to participate. Concerning the first type who don’t care about participating, sorry but I got nothing for ya. Just participate if nothing else for the free points.

Now moving onto the second type – if you don’t participate in class because you are truly too shy to raise your hand I would like to pass along what this professor said to us this semester.

While responding to a student who really did not like speaking in class and felt it unfair that part of their grade was based on in-class participation, this professor responded to them with,

“Let me lay all the cards out on the table. I don’t make you participate in class because I want to see if you know the answer; if I wanted to do that, I would just give you an exam. I do it because in this world nobody will ever ask you to raise your hand, nobody will require you to voice your opinions or thoughts. It will be entirely up to you to choose whether or not to do so. And I want you to choose to do so. Believe me, there will be times in your life, both professionally and personally, in which staying silent will not be an option. Consider this class a test run for those times.

My school is considered a liberal arts school and its selling pitch is partly laid in the promise that, “Graduates will be able to effectively communicate with others in the workplace.”

In ten seconds this professor had summed up the importance of communicating, how communication is a life skill rather than a job skill, and how whether you realize it or not, professors have a method to their madness.

I’m sure not all professors think this deeply about their mandatory participation, but this one did.

And perhaps there’s something to it.

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Housekeeping Note: I think I got this from my mom at some point, but it was a “9 Things Awesome People  Do” article and one of this things was, to take a stand not because you think you’re right, but because you’re not afraid to be wrong. Of all the things in this world to be afraid of, being wrong falls way down on the list.

Image Source: http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/05/why-powerpoint-should-be-banned-in-lectures/

Mouse Trap Marketing

This is a cute little story about the power of smart marketing.

In my high school a requirement for graduation is to take at least one Physics course. That was regardless of whether you were going for an Honors Diploma or not; so everybody in the class had to take Physics at some point. The famous project of Fall semester in Physics was the classic Mouse Trap Race Car. That’s where you make a tiny car that is powered solely by the energy you can harness from a mouse trap, and then you race your car against other people’s cars. Instead of speed, we were judged on distance traveled. The race always took place the week before Winter Break and the winner(s) would get an insane amount of extra credit.

About 2 miles from the high school there is a Dunn Hardware store. And one day a guy who works there started noticing that around December time there always seemed to be an influx of students coming in to buy hardware supplies, most notably plywood, string, washers, and of course, mouse traps.

Eventually he figured out that all these students were buying supplies for their Physics project…

So then he got smart.

The next year around December time Dunn Hardware started selling already made, ready to go Mouse Trap Race Cars.

Can you guess what happened?

The guy who found out about this annual Mouse Trap Race Car project got permission to start making Mouse Trap Race Cars to sell in the store. And then, just in case your teacher was smart enough to realize that the store down the street sold already made Mouse Trap Race Cars so made you assemble your race car in front of them, there were also prepackaged race cars that weren’t assembled but had all the parts you needed to make it and came with assembly instructions.

Why that guy doesn’t work in marketing is beyond me.

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Housekeeping Note: The answer to last week’s question from DON’T PANIC is Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

A Few Unqualified Economic Theories

I have this belief that economics is really just the study of human psychology with a couple equations thrown in to keep the math majors happy.

The first time I took an economics course was Spring semester of my freshmen year in college. It was Microeconomics, meaning that it covered economic principles relevant to individual people and businesses.

I personally found it quit interesting. There are a lot of topics concerning how people make decisions as consumers and how seemingly minute changes in a business model can make or break an individual company.

The first couple chapters of it all is sort of basic “I’ve heard all this before” type stuff, such as the relationship between supply and demand. But then it gets into how businesses decide what to charge for their products and how advertising becomes a game with the human mind.

Below are a few economic related stories/concepts I find particularly intriguing.

*Disclaimer: I am a 20-year-old college student who is unqualified to parallel park and is certainly unqualified to teach economics. Please proceed with caution.*

Incentive

I began this post with saying that economics is really just the study of human psychology with a couple equations thrown in to keep the math majors happy. I really do believe that and here’s why.

With the most basic reasoning, economics is all about money. And money is something that a lot of people like. It’s something that really motivates people to do things. And that’s the key – motivates.

Money, when you get down to it, is an incentive. An incentive is a reason why something should be done. And figuring out why somebody should do something is all about getting into that person’s head. It’s all about human psychology.

Sunken Costs

A “sunken cost” refers to a cost that cannot be regained – as in no force on this earth could get you that money back which you spent. The thing about sunken costs is that consumers oftentimes make choices motivated by those sunken costs, which is something they shouldn’t do.

For example, let’s say you buy a non-refundable concert ticket. And then your friend whom you were going to the concert with says that they can’t make it anymore which means that you would go to the concert by yourself.

Your friend not being with you isn’t the problem. The problem is that you actually hate the band playing and the only reason why you had bought a ticket in the first place is because you wanted to hang out with your friend who is no longer able to attend.

“But I’ve already paid for the ticket so I may as well just go”, you think to yourself.

And there’s the trap of sunken costs which many consumers fall for.

You’ve already paid for this non-refundable ticket and you will never see that $100 again. So your decision on whether to go or not shouldn’t be motivated by that sunken $100.

If the time the concert is going to take up is time better spent studying or sleeping, don’t spend that time at the concert. If you’ve thrown $100 down the drain, don’t throw more money down the drain to pay for the gas that it’ll take to get you to the concert.

That non-refundable concert ticket is a sunken cost and you shouldn’t let that motive more negative decisions.

Smile Train

This is a story I read about in the book Think Like A Freak. I wrote a previous post about that book relaying another cool story I had read in it. If interested check out that post as well, linked below.

The M&M Trick

Smile Train is a non-profit organization that performs surgeries around the world for children who have cleft lips and palates.

The founder of Smile Train deployed this idea of how to receive more donations for the organization (anybody who has ever had to solicit for fundraising understands how difficult recruiting donations can be).

The traditional way of recruiting donations is sending some type of notice to a person and asking that person to donate by sending back money.

The founder of Smile Train put a twist on this idea and instead gave the person receiving the solicitation three options:

  1. That this would be their only gift and not to send another solicitation letter.
  2. That they preferred to receive only two communications from Smile Train each year, and
  3. That they wanted to stay up to date on Smile Train’s regular communications.

You see the trick? It’s in the first option. He used the fact that most people get pestered by receiving solicitation letters and so offered those people a way to put a stop to them by making a one time donation.

(Side Note: I think in the book they mention that the minimum donation for option 1 was a bit larger than a regular donation, which is another trick they deployed. But don’t quote me on that one).

The other thing they talk about in the book is how only 1/3 of respondents ended up choosing option #1. The lesson being that by giving those three options, even as the one asking for money, he acknowledged that it is bothersome to be solicited. And because of that acknowledgement, Smile Train became a much friendlier, relatable organization in the public’s eye, resulting in more positive publicity for them.

Users Vs. Buyers

I learned this while in an engineering class. We had a professor come in to talk to us about marketing and he gave us some exercises to do. One exercise was determining who your target audience should be for a bag that kept your wallet safe.

The obvious answer was people travelling overseas. After some discussion that pool of people was narrowed down to students studying abroad because students are most likely to be careless about that kind of safety.

But that wasn’t the final answer. The final target audience wasn’t the students themselves, but the parents, particularly mothers.

Think back to when you were a student, or if you are a student think about your current behavior. Are you really that careful all the time about your things? Most students at that age think they’re invincible and nothing bad can happen to them. Besides, you’re too busy enjoying yourself to worry about the safety of your wallet. On top of that, you don’t want to spend your money on a safety product – you need money for shopping.

So if you don’t buy that bag to keep your wallet safe, who will? Statistically speaking, in most cases that person is likely to be a female caregiver/relative.

Anyway, the trick is that you weren’t marketing to students, you’re were really marketing to adult females, which in turn affects how the product should be marketed for maximum sales.

Lesson in one sentence: It’s not just about who’s going to use your product, but also who’s going to buy it.

Having Money Vs. Spending Money

This is similar to the previous concept.

Put simply, if a really rich couple comes in to buy your car but ends up not buying it, strictly speaking they’re worthless to you.

But if a couple who doesn’t have a lot of money comes in and decides to become broke in order to buy your car, they’re the ones you like.

Wealth may tell you who has the most money, but it won’t tell you who will give you a final sale.

What Makes A Good Company

I always thought this blurb was clever.

Good companies will solve your problems, while great companies will solve your problems which you didn’t even know you had.

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Housekeeping Note: As I have said before, I highly recommend Think Like A Freak and if you would like a more spread-out overview of the book, below is a link from Forbes Magazine that gives a nice summary of some of the concepts/lessons taught.

6 Surprising Ways Thinking Like A Freak Can Help You Succeed

Image from www.mariashriver.com 

The Ground And The Stars

My sophomore year of college we had a guest speaker from NASA, Dr. Roy M. Sullivan, come in and talk to us about his personal story of how he came to be a NASA engineer. He did his undergrad at Pennsylvania State University in Civil Engineering and then continued there for his PhD. in Engineering Science and Mechanics.

Once he graduated with his PhD, like what happens to many graduates today, he had no job to match his fancy new diploma.

So he did what he had to do and took work at a pizza parlor. A customer he met at the parlor was an architect and agreed to give him a couple hours of work a week at his company crunching numbers. The other thing he did was give him the contact information of somebody he knew at NASA.

While continuing to work at the pizza parlor in addition to working for the architect, Sullivan sent in his resume to the person at NASA.

He got an interview, got hired, and he now has over 30 years with NASA.

There are three things about this story which I think are important.

First, there’s no getting around hard work in order to accomplish great things. During his talk Sullivan said, “Sometimes you have to work hard without instant reward but you can’t let that stop you, you have to keep working hard”. As Fact Of Life #9 says: Life is a Pay to Play kind of sport.

Second, no matter what level of success you reach you are never above or excluded from certain things. That includes Fact Of Life #2: You gotta eat. And by extension, that sometimes also includes having to working at a pizza parlor.

Sullivan’s story is proof as to why it is so important to be open to things and to never stubbornly believe that you’re too good for something. There are times when you have to do jobs you don’t necessarily enjoy or jobs that you don’t think are really worth anything. There are times when you have to “work hard without instant reward”.

And third, opportunity often times isn’t obvious at first glance. You never know when it could be staring you right in the face without you even realizing it. Remember, everybody knows somebody you should know.

(And even NASA engineers enjoy eating pizza)

Story Recap: Sullivan, aspiring engineer, obtains PhD. Sullivan takes work at a pizza parlor when faced with having no engineering job after graduation. Sullivan ends up with a NASA career from meeting a customer at the pizza parlor.

Lesson in one sentence: Just because you reach the stars doesn’t mean you’re too good for the ground.

The M&M Trick

A while back I read a book called Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. It’s a great book that feels like light reading but you’re actually learning a lot about economics and sociology and human psychology.

Part of the reason why it feels like light reading is because Levitt and Dubner do a fantastic job of incorporating examples as they’re teaching various concepts so it feels as if you’re just reading a whole bunch of fun short stories, when really you’re learning about things that would traditionally be taught in a classroom.

One of my favorite things they teach in the book is a principle in game theory. Its formal term is separating equilibrium but Levitt and Dubner calls it “teaching your garden to weed itself”.

Here’s how it works (and here’s the great story that Levitt and Dubner use to teach it).

Van Halen is a hard rock band from the 1970’s. Being a hard rock band they are not shy in having extravagant performances. That entails ginormous speakers, colossal lighting, a whopping stage, and everything that could make a concert as hardcore as possible.

The extent of all this setup requires tedious details to be sorted out to ensure even the sheer safety of the concert setting itself. All the wiring has to be correct, support pillars have to be put perfectly in place so nothing collapses – there just has to be absolute diligence when preparing for a concert.

And all of those minute details can be found in the band’s contract rider.

Minute details that also include the band’s food demands for backstage.

For those of you who don’t know what a contract rider is, because I admittedly didn’t know what it was at first either, a contract rider is basically a book that lays out all the technical details for a band’s setup. The venue at which the band will perform at receives the contract rider ahead of time so that way when the band arrives at the location everything is mostly ready to go.

Patrick Whitley was Van Halen’s production manager from 1978 – 1984 and cleverly hid a separating equilibrium inside the band’s contract rider in order to ensure that the venue was following all directions to a T.

In the contract rider he put a whole bunch of demands such as a dozen hard-boiled eggs, Fruit Loops, real silverware (no plastic), 12 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, etc.

And in the middle of all that was the request for M&M’s but, as written in the contract rider,

(WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES)

Many thought this was the band’s way of flaunting their position but this was actually the test to see if the venue would follow all the directions in the contract rider, no matter how tedious.

When the band arrived at a location, the first thing Whitley would do is head backstage to check for brown M&M’s. If there weren’t any he could generally assume that the venue followed all directions properly. But if there were brown M&M’s Whitley would know he would have to do a go around of the entire venue.

“Teaching your garden to weed itself” is basically a way of forcing various parties into a situation and the strategy each party approaches the situation with, tells you something about them. In most cases it indicates which are the “guilty” parties and which are the “innocent” parties.

In this case, the guilty parties were the venues who had brown M&M’s and the innocent parties were the venues who had no brown M&M’s.

Takeaway Lesson (besides the game theory part):  just because you don’t understand why somebody is doing something (or just because you think it’s outright stupid), doesn’t mean that it’s not important.

Another example of this which is discussed in the book is the famous story of King Solomon and cutting the baby in half. Now that you know how Whitley did it, see if you can figure out how King Solomon used game strategy in his ruling concerning the baby.

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Housekeeping Note: If you enjoyed this short lesson about game strategy I highly recommend you read Levitt and Dubner’s book – it’s filled from page one to the end with clever stories such as the Van Halen band.

Also, Levitt and Dubner have another book called Freakonomics that is very similar to Think Like a Freak.

Lastly, the answer to the riddle from last week’s post (Mail Time) is: A Mailbox

(If you remove a letter from a mailbox, as in a letter you send through the postal service, it’s still a mailbox. Same thing goes if you were to add a postal letter. I like the riddle because it refers to something that sadly is going out of style more and more with the growth of social media, which is what makes the riddle challenging.)

“The Person You Need…”

This weekend my mother and I watched the Universal Pictures film Nanny McPhee.

Before I go any further, if you haven’t seen it yet go see it. It’s a fantastically told story of a family going through change. Movie trailer from Universal Movies linked below. Please Note: The link below will take you to the third party site YouTube.

Nanny McPhee Movie Trailer

The film is based on Christina Brand’s Nurse Matilda books although many people also relate the film as a modern day Mary Poppins story.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet or haven’t seen it in a while, here’s a three part blurb about the film.

There is much dysfunction in the Brown household with Cedric Brown and his seven children. Nanny McPhee becomes the children’s new nanny in order to teach five lessons. The Brown household learns to ban together during a time of uncertainty.

Nanny McPhee comes to the Brown household with “five lessons to teach”.

Nanny McPhee’s Five Lessons

Lesson #1 – To go to bed when they are told

Lesson #2 – To get up when they are told

Lesson #3 – To get dressed when they are told

Lesson #4 – To listen

Lesson #5 – To do exactly as they are told

 

Although as Nanny McPhee tells Cedric, “What the children learn is entirely up to them”.

Below are a few points I found particularly intriguing about the movie.

Nanny McPhee Herself

When Nanny McPhee first comes to the Brown household she is elderly and considerable unattractive. As the children learn their five lessons she transforms into a younger, beautiful woman.

Nanny McPhee’s appearance can be seen as a physical representation of the children’s behavior. It could also speak to how each lesson they must learn is “ugly” but as they learn those lessons things become “beautiful” again. As Fact of Life #14 says, not everything that’s good for the soul is pretty.

Another point about Nanny McPhee that is never outwardly verified is that she comes to the Brown household on behalf of the deceased mother. Two times during the movie Nanny McPhee is shown bowing to the “empty chair” in Cedric’s office – the “empty chair” which is kept in memory of the mother. This, plus her mysterious powers, play into Nanny McPhee’s mysterious background and makes the question of who she is and where she came from open to interpretation.

Perhaps most importantly, Nanny McPhee will always be there when you need her. Numerous times the children turn to Nanny McPhee for advice and help, even when it’s her “Sunday afternoon off”. Not only is she there for the children, but she is also there for the adult members of the household as well.

She is seen sticking up for the scullery maid Evangeline multiple times and she is also seen sticking up for Cedric.

In one scene Great Aunt Adelaide comes to the Brown household to relieve Cedric of a “great burden”. Cedric initially believes this to mean that she will give more financial support to the family but later learns that she instead intends to take one of his daughters away from him in order to raise\educate her at her own mansion.

It is clear that Cedric is often times bullied by Aunt Adelaide, partly due to the fact that she pays the rent for their home; however when Aunt Adelaide threatens to take one of his daughters away from him he puts his foot down even though he knows doing so will cause extreme strife.

When Aunt Adelaide begins to act unruly, Nanny McPhee intervenes before she can attack Cedric. This shows that she does recognize and understand the harsh pressure Cedric is under and also that he is doing the best he can, considering the circumstances.

Lessons Are Not Just For Children

Nanny McPhee comes with the intention of teaching the children five lessons, however the children are not the only family members who learn from Nanny McPhee, as Cedric learns just as much as the children.

After the children have learned Lesson #2, Christianna, one of Cedric’s daughters, asks for Cedric to read the children a story. Cedric makes the excuse about not being able to do so for he must do his letter writing instead. At this Nanny McPhee is clearly seen rolling her eyes at Cedric’s response.

At the beginning of the movie Cedric receives a letter from Aunt Adelaide saying that if he does not marry by the end of the month she will stop paying the rent for their home. This consequently means that the family will be split up and the children will no longer be together.

Cedric attempts to betroth Mrs. Quickly but does not tell the children about any of this. He also becomes extremely defensive when Simon, Cedric’s eldest son and arguable the leader amongst the children, questions him on the matter.

Because the children do not get a clear answer as to why Cedric is pursuing Mrs. Quickly, the children sabotage Cedric and Mrs. Quickly’s initial meeting together, making splitting up the family seemingly the only possible outcome.

Cedric afterwards acknowledges his mistake of keeping the children in the dark about matters by saying, “I should have told you. I can see that now”.

The Spoon Theory

Lesson #2 is “To get up when they are told”. The Brown children attempt to fool Nanny McPhee by playing ill so they won’t have to get out of bed. As a lesson to them Nanny McPhee works her magic so they have a high fever and physically cannot get out of bed. She plays along with their trick and tells the children that their symptoms are clearly indicative of the measles and therefore must be cured with measles medicine to be “administered every hour, on the hour”. The medicine she gives the children is shown as dark black liquid that looks like it’s moving.

Here’s my theory about that scene. I think that scene is a spoof off of Mary Poppins’ “A Spoonful Of Sugar”. In Mary Poppins the children are given a spoonful of sweet tasting medicine for their cold. But in Nanny McPhee the children are given multiple doses of bad tasting medicine. The scenes are parallel to each other, but opposite.

A spoonful of sugar may make the medicine go down, but sometimes a spoonful of tough love is needed to make the lesson go down.

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There are many more underlying lessons and themes to be found in Nanny McPhee which makes the film so great. Now I challenge you to see what lessons you can learn. There are five lessons that are taught in the film, but what you learn is entirely up to you.

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Housekeeping Note: The cook in the movie is hysterical. Also, there is a sequel to Nanny McPhee as well, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang.

Assumptions In Bed

You know that phrase, “Never ASSUME because when you assume you make an ASS out of U and ME”?

(there are like 10 different variations of this quote but the general principle is the same)

I always thought this quote was good and I like it and on top of that I was really close to doing just that this week.

Here’s what happened.

I’m working a job near my school this summer so am in the search for accommodations. I saw an ad from the university near the place I would be working which said,

“There are six raised beds available… at the Nature Center…. If you are interested, or for more information, please contact…”

Now I do not claim to be the sharpest crayon in the box (because I’m not the sharpest crayon in the box) but I was so anxious to find accommodations that I must have not thought carefully enough about what they actually meant.

I emailed the contact person to ask for more information about the “six raised beds” and the opening sentence in their response was,

“Hi Hailey, thank you for your interest in the gardening plots.”

It was at that moment I realized I had made a huge assumption.

In gardening, such as the type of gardening they do at the Nature Center, “raised beds” is a planting technique in which the plants are grown in soil that is “raised” above the ground.

I actually laughed for a moment when I realized what I had done. It could have been a lot worse though. I had made my initial email to the contact person very vague and just asked for “more information on how it would all work”. I was really trying to ask about rent without sounding pushy.

But imagine if I had said that straight out like, “So how much is rent per month for a bed? Do I need to bring my own mattress?”

In my defense, at my school there are two options for your dorm bed – either lofted (not raised off the ground) or lofted (raised off the ground like a bunk bed), so I must have jumped the gun and made the instant connection between the two.

Anyway, funny story that did not result in me finding accommodations but did result in me now being the proud mother of a plot of plants for the summer.

If you have a funny story in which assumption got the best of you or if you have any suggestions as to what I should grow, let me know in the comments below.

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Housekeeping Note: A new Secret Project has been revealed on the Secret Projects page. Check it out. (linked below)

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“I saw that.” ~ Sincerely, Karma

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I got my driver’s license the summer before my freshman year of college. Unlike many of my other friends, driving as soon as the law permitted me to do so (age 16) was just not important to me. I had other things I wanted to do. So I waited until that summer to enroll in driving school and take my driver’s test. I would have waited even longer because I wouldn’t have a car on campus that year so it seemed useless for me to get something I wouldn’t use. However my parents made the point that the longer I waited the harder it’ll be for me to get my license and also there could be an unforeseeable situation in which I would need to drive.

So I went to Driver’s Ed. and it took me two tries to pass the Ohio driver’s examination. I passed the written exam just fine. I passed the maneuverability part on the first try (with a penalty for having to start over once) and then I failed the driving portion for going too slow.

If you saw how I drive today you would laugh and question whether they gave that evaluation to the wrong person. The first year of me driving myself regularly to and from places, I was way, way too fast and reckless. And if you don’t believe me, you can ask the sheriff who gave me my first speeding ticket.

When getting that first ticket I did what any 19-year-old would do – paid it and didn’t tell my parents. Not telling my parents consequently set off an alarm with Karma, who must have been looking down on me that night. It was one speeding ticket which all I had to do was pay and be done with. But then I got a call from my parents one evening saying that a summons had been sent to the house for me to appear in court.

I was going to jail.

Just kidding.

What happened was the clerk from the county office had made an error, sent a summons to the house by mistake, and now my parents knew about the ticket.

Funny how the universe works sometimes.

The way I see it, is that it was better for that night to have ended in a ticket rather than an accident. That ticket was the universe’s way of warning me to be more careful about how I behaved on the road. Also, Karma was reminding me that even as an assumed adult, parents are still the almighty.

One Line Lesson: Never hide anything from your parents and Karma is always watching.

If you get a speeding ticket or get pulled over by a cop, stay calm, be respectful, learn from it, and be grateful that the piece of paper they give you is just a piece of paper at the end of the day.

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I feel sort of on a roll right now, so in order to wear myself out some more I have come up with a handful of lessons I have learned from my first year of driving.

Driving Tips for Newbies from a (Semi) Newbie

1. It took me perhaps a month to get used to the concept of locking the car before leaving it until it became natural habit. Silly but true. Always lock the car.

2. The maneuverability test may be annoying to pass, but it is actually incredible important to know how to parallel park/get yourself out of tight spaces. This is especially important for the city.

3. New York driving is not the same as driving. Be ready for aggressiveness.

4. There was a man at my synagogue who was one of the Sunday school teachers and whenever he taught someone how to drive he first asked them “What am I here to teach you?”  The answer according to him was that he was there to teach them “how to control a machine that could kill someone”. That is exactly right. That is ultimately what you’re doing when driving – you are controlling a machine that could kill someone. Driving is a huge responsibility that should not be constantly fretted over but always given its due diligence.

5. “Respect the road and what your car can do” My Mother

6. Knowing whether to keep going or slow down when approaching a yellow light takes experience to not completely butcher. It depends on how your car brakes, what speed you’re currently driving at, and what is safe for the situation. If you go through a light too late, just learn from it (and hope there wasn’t a traffic camera nearby).

7. If you do not feel safe in making the turn, backing out, reversing, whatever it is you are doing, don’t do it. Even if the cars around you are honking or the people in the car are yelling at you, make the move when you feel it is safe to make it – because ultimately you’re the one responsible for all those in the car, including yourself.

8. Towards the end of the summer when I got my driver’s license, my father said to me, “Hailey, I have taught you everything I could. Everything else will come from experience”. There comes a point, like with many other things, where the textbook cannot help you anymore. You must go out and use a combination of what you have learned with what feels right to you to just start doing it. The rest will come with time.

9. You’re going to get honked at. Get over it. It happens all the time to everybody.

10. Enjoy the journey.

………

If you have a story in which Karma chose to pick on you for the day or a driving related story, let me know in the comments below.

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Housekeeping Note: The car pictured above is my 2010 Subaru Legacy named Hubert with my miniature Winnie the Pooh who keeps me safe on the road.

The key ring pictured above is my own personal key ring. The key ring holds on it a Lego ducky which I got from a robotics competition, a blue bicycle that doubles as a bottle opener, a double sided screwdriver for glasses, and the Micro Beam Car Key Chain from Things Remembered (my mother bought it for me when I got my license and had them engrave the phrase “Always Drive To Your Dreams” on the tag of it).

Death Of A College Student

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For all those of you currently in school or are recent graduates, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman should ring a bell (it’s not necessarily everybody’s favorite play read in English class, but it’s also not the most disliked play read in class either).

For those of you who went to school with the Flintstone’s children and are having a little trouble recalling the play, let me give you a 3 part blurb about it.

Salesman (Willy Loman) becomes fixated on this “perfect image” on how he should be. Salesman works all his life to make that image a reality. Salesman dies trying.

The underlying theme of the play is the concept of the American Dream. Willy becomes so fixated on reaching what he believes is the American Dream (which is to be a respectable, well loved salesman), that he drives himself to the brink of exhaustion (both physically and mentally). And with his stressed relationship between him and his sons, he is pushed over that brink by the end of the play.

It is actually revealed throughout the play that Willy is quit a handy carpenter, as well as avid gardener, but again, he becomes so fixated on becoming this super star salesman, that he dismisses these qualities about himself.

Linda (Willy’s wife) has one of the most famous lines of the entire play in Act I. She says, referring to Willy, “But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. Attention must be finally paid to such a person” (Miller 56).

Alright Linda, now is your time to shine girlfriend, for on this day, attention shall be paid to as you say, “such a person”.

Notice the title is, “Death of a Salesman”, not “Death of Willy Loman, the Salesman”.

Because Linda, just like this play, is not only referring to Willy, she is referring to a whole group of people who have become all too common in this world; people who try to sell themselves to others in the hopes of being well liked and respected, but in doing so, end up ignoring their true selves or even changing themselves in the whole.

The reality of the situation is that whoever you are, whatever job you do have, we are all salesmen; we are all constantly trying to sell ourselves to other people, to convince others that we are smart enough, beautiful enough, athletic enough, funny enough, interesting enough, plus a multitude of other things.

To bring this into a more relatable context for the world we live in today, let’s talk about another dream, perhaps the second most famous dream to the American Dream – that is, the College Dream.

The College Dream is not just about having the chance to obtain a stellar education, which let’s be clear about, is a HUGE honor and an honor which unfortunately not everybody gets to have; it’s also about finding yourself and creating yourself and meeting lots of new exciting people who you’ll get to call your life-long friends and having experiences that make you better.

The pressure to make this College Dream a reality is pretty high from the get-go, especially when students see other students supposedly living this dream themselves. It’s difficult to feel like the one left out (similar to how Willy felt compared to the younger salesmen).

The first year is incredible stressful social wise; the first year, when everybody’s being sorted into their “proper categories” that are the social circles of the school, as well as joining way too many student groups and clubs that is humanly possible to keep up with.

Honestly, it would just be easier if we borrowed the sorting hat from Hogwarts or something.

For me personally, my first year consisted of me deleting the 500 emails about sororities that I received every day, and instead creating power points that I used to pitch the robotics team to other students. Because my parents raised me to be my own person no matter what was going on around me (thanks mom and dad).

And because of that, I now have a group of teammates who make me feel proud to have a, “I love RobotC” sticker on my computer. The lesson being here that the 1 person who makes you feel comfortable with yourself will always mean more to you than the 100 people who make you feel uncomfortable with yourself.

(For all you non-coders out there, RobotC is a programming language commonly used in the industrial engineering and robotics fields).

So what do you do when you become fixated on being able to sit with the cool kids?

You observe them in their natural habitat, you pick up the social cues, you dream about how you’ll become their new founded best bud and how everybody will love you…

And then you snap back to reality, realize how petrified you really are, and lock yourself in your room to indulge in Netflix for the next 3 hours.

However long this process takes or whatever form it takes, I think we can all agree that there is always that moment of daydreaming followed by a fearful moment of anxiety when faced with the proposition of trying to fit in.

Bottom line, whatever you do, you must be very careful that you do not ever change who you are at the core.

Side note: I was struggling to word the above line for a while, because I kept thinking that it is ok to change, but that change must be for the better.

One more (silly) way to think about all of this: if you were trying to sell a table to somebody, and they say that what they really want is a chair, you wouldn’t cut down the table to turn it into a chair. You would find another customer who actually wants a table.

If somebody doesn’t appreciate you for you, go find somebody else, because no matter how incredible that person may seem to you, they aren’t worth it.

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Housekeeping Note: The tea set pictured above is a part of the “Polka Dot Tea for Two” 5 piece porcelain set from World Market.