Month: August 2011

A Justification of Procrastination

Ever heard of Fermat? It’s a name I feel like I should know, but didn’t until today. See, Google’s homepage today shows Fermat’s “Last Theorem,” in celebration of his birth date, which has spurred dozens of articles on the mathematicians accomplishments throughout his life. My favorite, however, comes from the Christian Science Monitor. They explain:

But Fermat is best remembered not for what he did, but for what he left undone. One day in 1637, while perusing his copy of an ancient Greek text by the 3rd century mathematician Diophantus, Fermat jotted a note in the margins that would drive mathematicians crazy for the next four centuries.

Fermat’s marginalia, which was written in Latin and later discovered by his son after he died, read: “It is impossible to separate a cube into two cubes, or a fourth power into two fourth powers, or in general, any power higher than the second, into two like powers. I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain.”

The proof for Fermat’s scribbles didn’t come until 1994, and the methodology used over the 1000 page proof was not available during Fermat’s day, which means we may never know what proof he had devised at the time. Maybe he devised nothing.

Anyway, the last paragraph made me laugh.

So the next time someone asks you about the dishes in the sink, the half-written novel in the desk drawer, or that ’67 Camaro sitting on blocks on your lawn, simply think of Fermat, and respond that you have a truly marvelous plan to finish your project, but that the day is too narrow to contain it.

A couple of notes. For one, I’m definitely using that response. And I will be endlessly humored by my contrived wit and the confusion sweeping the face of my partner in conversation. It will probably end up being my mom, and she’ll probably just shake her head and repeat the demand, but it will be amusing. For sure.

For two, it’s an interesting thought. I’m very much about completion and closure. Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a guy I hung out with last week or a project I’ve spent months on at work. I like to see things tied up neatly with a bow and a decisive conclusion.

But what about the things we leave undone? I think of all the blogs I’ve started and stopped; the short stories abandoned in waste baskets; the websites laying half-created in the annals of my hard drive.

It’s a lot to think about (and more than I care to admit). Some of these things are disappointing, I suppose. But I think of what came in their stead, and I don’t know that I’d do things differently. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t.

I like order, but I live in chaos because I’m pretty sure I would not be entertained enough to survive in an orderly world. I like organization, but I love the thrill of moving at break-neck speed. As Attain’s President is fond of saying to me, “Better busy than bored, eh, Nelson?”

Truth.

If I had completed all of those projects sitting around, I probably would have wasted hours of my life, quite frankly. I am an idea person, but not all of them are good. If I tried to see all of my ideas through to the end, not only would I lose my mind, but I’d also probably hit dead end after dead end after… well, you get the picture.

Our CEO has another reminder he frequently issues to me:

“Triage, Nelson. Triage.”

In other words, sometimes you’ve got to take the view from 10,000 feet above, figure out how the pieces work together and make some tough calls. If you’re focusing on a tiny cut on your pinky (getting that logo just right, for example), you may miss the hemorrhage spouting from your leg (umm… why is the blog down?!). In many ways, I feel like the ability to do this is actually more valuable to me than the perseverance associated with follow-through.

So I may not have known who Fermat was this morning, but he’s now my bestie (even though math is SO not my thing).

I’d come up with a clever ending for this, but the day is simply too narrow to contain such brilliance…

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Debate

For one reason or another, I’ve been overtly nostalgic lately. The past week has involved many (actually, probably one too many) trips down memory lane- in particular as it relates to my time in Bowling Green. Actually, in particular, as it relates to debate.

I’m a fan of debate. Anyone who knows me knows that for a fact. My experience in competitive debate has truly shaped me as a person, and I firmly believe I would not be where I am today without those lessons. What lessons, you may ask? Sit tight.

1. Ask questions. Ask a lot of them. Not understanding something is never an excuse.

2. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on, and then look for more. It’s not enough to get news off of one site (I don’t care if it’s Fox, CNN, MSNBC, Drudge Report, HuffPo…), and it’s not enough to look at them all. You’ve got to seek out true thought diversity in your reading materials, or you’re only getting a fraction of the story.

3. People suck sometimes. There’s nothing you can do about that, but at the same time, it’s important to stand up when it matters. There were times I wish I had.

4. People can also be exceedingly awesome. I’ll never forget one specific round against Long Beach at Point Loma. I was debating with Adam, the round was important, and we decided to engage in the narrative framework by announcing my pregnancy to the community. I’ve never been in a room so electrically charged in my life, nor have I ever experienced such a tremendous flow of compassion, support and friendship. We lost that round, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was the experience, and it was worth anything that followed. The coaches and mentors I’ve had over the years (Glenn Prince, Steve Doubledee, Jenn Sullivan, Jenny Corum, Chris Joffrion, Justin Cress, Chad Meadows, Martin Harris, Joelle Perry, Carrie Menapace and so many more) shaped my work ethic, taught me what it was to perservere and helped me figure out who I am as a person. I am forever in their debt. The camaraderie has extended far beyond the circuit, as well; Facebook has become the new prep room, and I love that.

5. Stay true to yourself. I know this is like the granddaddy of all cliches, and it seems bizarre to hear the lesson come out of debate, but it’s true. I was not the fastest or most technical debater. I’m pretty sure there were days where Chad, Tom Schally and Logan Parke would read some of the positions I cut and want to nail me to the wall for it. But it worked for me. Not always, and not perfectly- but in general, it worked for me. And I had more fun because I did what made sense to me. Which leads me to…

6. Keep an open mind. There are some pretty deep lines drawn in the sand when it comes to debate style preferences in the community. There are those who say communicative value is paramount, and others who say it’s a game, and if you can’t play it fast enough to keep up, you should get out of the way. I see value in both. I was never going to be the fastest debater, but thanks to Chad, I got to a point where I could keep up fairly well. The ability to analyze and act in a split second is perhaps one of the most valuable skills I’ve acquired over the years- in debate and elsewhere. At the same time, the ability to adapt a message to an audience is a skill I use everyday. Don’t tell me one is more valuable than another, because I might laugh at you. Really, the context of that whole debate is probably pretty irrelevant; the point is that I learned that you’ve got to be willing to see both sides. From that, and, you know, having to argue both sides of one resolution all year long.

7. It’s all relative. There are no easy answers, and there is no black and white. We may mentally darken and lighten hues to make it seem that way, but at the end of the day, it’s just how we justify things for ourselves.

8. Don’t be too quick to judge. Yes, people suck (see #3), and yes, they can be awesome (see #4), but one encounter (or hell, 15) may not be enough for you to make that call. Give people a shot.

9. No one is an island. You can think you’re a one man show, but at the end of the day, it’s the community you surround yourself with that makes life what it is. Embrace it, show love on a regular basis, and you won’t be disappointed.

10. The world is a beautiful and horrifying mess. But it’s worth engaging in. I seriously learned more in 4 years of competing and two years of coaching than I did in the rest of my academic career- and it’s not even a close call for me to say that. Burma, anyone?

I guess this is really just a big thank you to anyone who had any role in my debate participation. Whether you were a teammate, coach, judge, competitor, friend, acquaintance, student… it doesn’t matter. You’ve all changed my life for the better, and I love you dearly.

WKY- Point Loma 2006

I Believe in Love

It’s been a hot minute, and sometime soon I’ll explain why, but I’m afraid what I have to say can’t wait for pleasantries, because it isn’t pleasant.

Over the weekend, two people near and dear to my heart tied the knot. They’ve been together since my freshman year of college, and to see them grow as individuals and a couple has been a blessing. You won’t find two people more devoted to each other the world over, with so much capacity for love, appreciation and kindness in their hearts.

They are also two men.

I’ve come to a point in my life where, if you have a problem with my friends being married, then you are no friend of mine. Because, frankly, if you’re against a love like that, I don’t want to know you.

Perhaps these are harsh words, but it’s a harsh reality we’re facing today. Michele Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll. This is a woman who thinks one can “pray the gay away,” and that the battle over gay marriage is not about rights and humanity, but about “protecting” our children from a culture of predators. She consistently revises history for her own purposes, misrepresents her own history to suit her campaign needs, and has zero understanding of how fiscal policy is set and executed. Her qualifications for holding the highest office in the nation include blocking women from entering abortion clinics, and home schooling her children to protect them from being brainwashed by the anti-Biblical, anit-parents, and anti-education oriented educators.

Speaking of the Bible… Bachmann also supports some of the most radical Conservative Christian thinkers out there- people like Francis Schaeffer, who called for a violent overthrow of the U.S. government if Roe v. Wade were not reversed. She believes that we need to bring the nation back to its Biblical roots- despite the fact that those roots are a figment of her imagination used to mask the Deist reality of the Founding Fathers.

She even went so far in 2008 as to call for a return to McCarthyism- stating on air that there should be an investigation into Congress to find out who was “un-American.” I remember watching those statements live in horror. The fact that this woman is still being discussed today makes me naseous.

Yes, this is the woman who came out of a rather terrifying Republican debate smelling of roses. That is utterly terrifying to me.

I don’t want Bachmann to win, but my problem goes well beyond the R (or Tea Party, if you want to get specific) that follows her name. I have very close friends who are ardent Republicans. Hell, most of my family members are Republicans. But if steel sharpens steel, I am willing to engage them on political issues for the sake of furthering understanding of public policy and social issues with a goal of better solutions in the end. I take issue with the fact that this woman spews hate and misinformation on a regular basis under the guise of patriotism.

There is nothing patriotic about hate.

As I look through the joyous photos from my friends’ civil union, I am moved to tears. On one hand, my happiness for these two wonderful human beings knows no bounds. On the other hand, the fact that there are people out there who, not only scorn their love for each other, but actively seek to discredit it in the eyes of the law, makes me fearful for the future they- and we- face tomorrow.

Despite this, and the crappy economy, and the social inequities, and the degraded environment, and a slew of other imperfections I’m just too agitated to get into right now, I love my country. I love it because it houses so many of the people I love; because it was built by the champions of rugged individualism; and because its faults are only surpassed by the opportunities it presents. It is an imperfect but richly wide open country. As much as I want to pack up and move to Canada (or Norway, actually) some days, I won’t.

I am an American, and I believe in love. I’m not going anywhere. And let me make this crystal clear- if someone tries to undermine the love I’ve been so blessed to stand witness to- whether its the love of my newlywed friends, my dearest near and far, or those that they care about- I will fight to protect it. Because that is the patriotic thing to do.