25 Things

A copy of my "25 Things" meme that's been making the rounds through Facebook.

Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)

01. I take just about any opportunity to be introspective, and I tend to talk a lot.

After your second hour of reading this, you'll see what I mean.

02. I take lots of pictures.

A life and a half ago, back in middle school, I had a basic class in black and white photography. A few years ago I decided to start taking pictures again; I'm not very good at it, but I enjoy the process.

These days, I shoot with a Nikon D90 and a Panasonic LX3. I have a Flickr photostream, found here:


03. I enjoy studying languages, though I never make the progress I hope to.

If trying to impress people, it would sound like this: I studied Hebrew for seven years and Spanish for five, can communicate fairly well in Japanese and dabble in a few other languages.

If trying to sound more realistic: Despite spending a lot of time trying to learn other languages, I'm fluent in nothing but my native tongue. I can read and write Hebrew, but can't speak it. I can read and write Japanese about as well as a native—if that native were four years old. Despite living in France for half a year, I can barely order dinner in the language.

But I keep trying. Again, I like the process.

04. I've traveled more abroad than in the United States.

From a traveler's perspective, I've been pretty fortunate. I've spent two weeks in Israel; about the same in China. I spent a summer semester in Japan, lived and studied in France for half a year, and vacationed twice in the Netherlands. And I guess the cruise I went on in high school kind of counts.

Here in the states, though, my life is pretty restricted to the northeast corridor. I've lived in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington DC, and vacationed in New Jersey, Delaware, and Florida. Everywhere else I've been has just been a day trip or a flyover.

05. I'm almost certainly better than you at Rock Band and Guitar Hero.

Because it's a competitive sport, right? But seriously...if you've got a problem that can only be solved with fake plastic guitars, you know where to find me.

06. I fought a mugger once, and won, I guess.

Because it's a competitive sport, right?

Since starting college, I've lived in a few not-so-great areas in a number of cities, but I've only been mugged once--in Society Hill, of all places.

I was carrying a laptop bag with me, and I was kind of attached to the contents, and I was in kind of a miserable mood, so...yeah.

Some lessons learned:
  • Don't fight muggers, it's stupid. I got to keep my stuff because luck of the draw got me a schmuck who only PRETENDED to have a gun. If I had been a moron with the wrong angry guy, I'd be dead. "Stuff" isn't worth "dead".
  • Fighting hurts. I'd fought plenty before—on mats in a dojo, or messing around with friends. This was different. I actually hurt someone, and he actually hurt me. Neither of those things is too enjoyable once the adrenaline fades.
That laptop died like a week later and needed to be replaced anyway. Go figure.

07. I don't know how to drive. I never learned.

Long story.

Ok, not really. After high school, I just never bothered. Lived in cities pretty continuously, it's always been optional, never a necessity. And that's that.

I know, I know: I ought to learn. I keep meaning to. But let me tell you, a life without ever worrying about gas prices is pretty nice.

08. I think smoking is good for me.

Not my health, of course; don't be silly—that shit will kill you. But as a stimulant, a stress reliever, and a social lubricant (in certain circles), cigarettes do more than their fair share of good.

I stopped smoking last year for non-lung-related health reasons. I don't miss the smell, the cost, or the social marginalization (in other certain circles), but I do miss the sense of intellectual clarity they brought. For that reason alone, I can't guarantee that I won't smoke again, should the rest of my physical well-being allow it.


09. It took me a really long time to figure out how to interact with people.

So much so, in fact, that I sometimes feel like a bit of a fraud here on Facebook. If you're on that long list of people I haven't seen or spoken with since high school, it would be dishonest to say I knew many of you all that well, or vice versa.

To be honest, that's the heart of a selfish reason I had for helping to organize our ten-year reunion: to take another chance to engage with the people I grew up with, now that I'm so much closer to the person I want to be.

For those of you GWHS alum who didn't make it, maybe there'll be another pretense for dinner and drinks before our 20-year comes around...

10. College didn't really go as planned.

That's not entirely accurate. I went into college without a plan. I went into grad school without a plan. Hell, I went into Super Bowl Sunday without much of a plan.

That lack of a plan led to some very good experiences—some great classes I never would have taken had I been more "focused", some great people I never would have met—but it was also the cause of a lot of grief. The grief and the good times add up to two undergraduate schools with five majors (one completed), two graduate programs with three focuses (two completed), and...

11. Staggering student loan debt.

For the rest of my life, all my major plans and decisions must be tempered by monthly loan payments that exceed the cost of a reasonable mortgage.

If knowledge and experience had a return policy, I wouldn't use it: in a sense, I got what I paid for. But it's still troubling how much the decisions of my 18-21 year old self have handcuffed me.

12. If I never see another executive summary or powerpoint presentation again, it will be too soon

The grad program I finished was an MBA /MS program. After finishing, I worked as a consultant / analyst for a few years. The time I was self-employed was stressful and depressing, and the time I spent working for a small pharma consulting firm did nothing but teach me, by virtue of their absence, the value of a functioning HR department and engaged management.

The trappings of that world—the pie charts unrepresentative of anything, the status quo market research posing as something grander, entrepreneurs predatorially seeking JUST enough funding to cash out—don't appeal to me even a little bit.

In retrospect, I probably could have learned that lesson for less than the cost of two masters degrees. At least I got to see Paris. :)

13. My childhood wasn't exactly filled with "father figures."

My father left my family when I was nine or ten, not counting the occasional spiteful custody battle. Despite this being largely responsible for number 09, above, I think I'm a better person for it. More on this later.

My mother remarried when I was in high school. I got in a few one-sided fistfights with that guy, which were pretty fun, but otherwise, he was a petty, miserable person to have around.

Glad to report that she's been happily remarried to a decent human being for a while now, but that happened as I was graduating college.

So yeah, not many fathers around...

14. ...but I had a wonderful "grandfather figure" instead.

Fortunately, my mom's parents stepped in to help out with the hard stuff. If I was ever embittered and antisocial as an adolescent, it may have in part been due to my father. But if I've ever been friendly, funny, smart, curious, or caring since, it's in large part due to my grandfather.

And if you've ever eaten my unapologetically delicious not-quite-an-omelet breakfast—the only food I can reasonably prepare—you have him to thank for teaching me that as well.

My grandfather died last year after an unexpected, but thankfully brief, battle with cancer. I miss him.

15. I have developed a strange habit of modifying my grooming habits in response to death.

Except for the short time when I grew my hair out to match my flannel shirts, I visited the same barber from the time I was eight years old.

When I returned from Paris, I learned that he died of pancreatic cancer just a month before. Crestfallen, but in need of a haircut, I bounced around the ladies at the Chop Shop for a few unhappy years.

For whatever reasons, I'm happier now that I cut my own hair; it's pretty easy since I've gone short and utilitarian with it. But if you're ever wondering why it's ever just a bit too long in the back, well...that's why.

A more conscious decision came about when my grandfather died. The man had a face made of sandpaper, and generally insisted on kisses where his cheeks would scratch the healthiest of lips. To my knowledge, he never actually shaved—just used the electric trimmer to get it real short.

Which is, for the last year, what I have done as well—no razors. Blond hair means you can't see it, but...my cheeks serve as both a weapon and a memory!


16. I am very smart.

I thought a lot about this list item: how arrogant or pretentious it might sound. I decided to include it because of the singular impact this little fact has had on my life. NOTHING has affected me more.

My last real IQ test puts me five deviations to the right of normal. What does this mean? It means I learn things well, and I understand things fast. It means that I can be a useful member of your trivia team if you're trying to win free drinks.

But it also means that my "off button" is critically broken. It means I have trouble relaxing, I have trouble "enjoying". I have to fight a perpetual dissatisfaction, an aching feeling that any given moment I ought to be "doing more", whatever that means.

It can also be incredibly socially isolating—lonely. So if you think I'm a jerk for even mentioning this list item, you can take some comfort in that. Jerk.

17. I don't believe in a god, many gods, or anything else supernatural, nor do I trust in the concept of faith.

I've probably been functionally atheist since I was about 11 or 12 years old, though I couldn't really articulate the idea until much later—nor did I really embrace the label and its attached baggage until adulthood.

I don't like to be needlessly inflammatory, so this won't turn into a treatise on personal philosophy. But I love the intelligent discussion that can emerge from theological debate, and welcome anyone interested in a dialogue to chat with me.

18. I am constantly learning.

Not just in that "life experiences" kind of way. I take advantage of any opportunity I can to fill in the gaps in my knowledge and further my understanding of...stuff.

Practically, that means I spend a lot of time reading and listening to podcasts and courses online. Recent focuses include geopolitics, philosophy of ethics, political philosophy, history, music, and skeptical inquiry.

Let me know if you want reading or listening recommendations. :)

19. My personal politics are grounded in pragmatic ethical obligations and guarantees of personal freedom. In the modern United States, this makes me a progressive liberal.

If I could fill a conversation with religious debate, I could fill a book with a deeper discussion of this statement. I choose to present it without further comment, but again—I welcome any dialog on the subject.

20. I spend an awful lot of time thinking about ethics and morality.

Seriously. My subconscious is perpetually jumping from one poorly-conceived thought experiment to another.

I'm most interested in
  • personal ethical codes and conduct: what are the causes of "moral" behavior, and to that extent moral standards are subjective
  • the moral obligations of political systems--how far does the social contract extend, to whom, and at what permissible cost?


21. Teaching is the first job I've had that has felt right.

I've worked at least on weekends since I was 14. I've been a great employee and a terrible employee, and I've been promoted and fired. But I'd never really *enjoyed* my job until I started teaching.

Right now, I teach GMAT prep courses for a great company managed by smart people who treat me well. I couldn't ask for much more from an employer, but it's the actual teaching, lesson planning, and thinking about pedagogy that is the best part. In the near future, I plan to return to school so that I can begin a long-term career in education.

22. I enjoy writing, even if I don't have the discipline to pursue longer projects.

Four-mile-long facebook essays don't count as "longer projects." This note goes on and on, sure, but that's how I like my blog entries—unedited and a little bit rambly. Like a conversation, complete with the "um"s and "ah"s.

I carry an Alphasmart NEO with me most places I go (NaNoWriMo people should know what that is, click here if you don't). At any given time I have three or more different files on it languishing in my own personal equivalent of development hell. I constantly revisit them, expanding old story ideas or exploring new directions an essay can take, but everything I write seems to stay in outline or treatment form forever. I don't know what's wrong with me.

23. Everyone has fears and concerns about starting a family, but mine might be a little different...

This dilemma might sound strange, but this is what keeps me up nights:

I'm as flawed as the next guy, but all in all I'm pretty happy with how I turned out. The problem is many of the traits that I like most about myself were crucible-borne, emerging from the hardships of my childhood. Spending a good deal of time as a poor kid from a single-parent home shaped me in some very positive ways. It was a long time in coming, but I don't see how I could have come to have the confidence and independence of spirit that I have today without those trials.

So how to impart those same lessons in a visceral way to another generation *without* forcing them to endure the same hardships? I'm really not sure.

24. I've thought about moving elsewhere, but I'll always be a Philadelphian first.

I know, some of my credentials are suspect; (Q: What's the difference between the Far Northeast and South Jersey? A: Liquor prices and full-service gas), but I've been living in town for more than six years since finishing college, and I can't imagine a place more like home.

All the places I've lived and visited abroad have been great, and I hope that I have the opportunity to revisit those experiences. But I will always be more at home with cheesesteaks and football than crepes and futbol.

25. I still absurdly, naively, want to make a difference.

And not just to a handful of "starfish", but in some broad, fundamental way. Hubris!

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this very much. It was fun growing up as neighbors, but that was a long time ago and we are both different people. I'd love to reconnect so we can meet each other as who we currently are.