Memories are strange. They’re an invaluable resource that influences our actions, our thoughts, our relationships, our decisions, our life etc. And the funny thing is how inaccurate they are. There’s that cheesy saying, “there are 3 sides to a story: your side, my side, and the truth.” Well, our memory is malleable. We can remember something as being funnier than it was, sadder than it was, colder, night time/day time. Our mind plays tricks on us. But we are stronger than the auto-pilot functions that our brain enacts. We can manipulate our memories into resources that can enrich our lives! It’s YOUR fucking memory.
I read the book, Life of Pi, in my junior year of high school. Its message didn’t hit me until much later. I wont spoil anything, but the overall theme was the value of the better story. The ‘better story’ being the way we choose to digest a memory.
I told you that story about jumping that kid for cocaine money, here’s another. My father was shot in the head and killed in 1997, I was four. My whole life I was told that he had died in a car accident. 14 years later, I was living in Idaho and my cousin told me the truth over the phone. My father was a cab driver and had picked up two young black men in a bad part of Bushwick. They wanted to rob him. He had given my mother over a hundred dollars that same morning, so he only had $45 during the robbery. The young man in the passenger seat, Elvin Hill (this one), thought my father was disrespecting him by giving him so little money, so he shot him in the head point blank. Elvin’s associate in the back seat would later explain that my father was shot while pointing at pictures of my brother and I that were taped on the dashboard.
The situation was fucked. The facts are stagnant, but the story is dependent on perception. There are so many pieces, so many colors. It’s too easy to demonize my father’s killer, to make him the villain. Here’s a better story, just a fraction of it rather:
Elvin Hill was 18 when he killed my father. I was 18 when I found out. Connections connections. How different were we at that age?
I had two loving parents, my step-father and mother. His died at a young age, and he was raised by his drug addicted aunt and uncle.
I lived in a house in upstate New York, in a nice neighborhood with a dog and a backyard and a pool and a trampoline and stuff. He was raised in a bad part of Bushwick, Brooklyn, back when it wasn’t occupied by white dudes with fancy haircuts and flannel vests.
I had a great education and great support. I was in a 4-year private university. My thoughts and ideas were valued and validated. I don’t want to assume Elvin’s support system or education, he could have been brilliant, but he was arrested several times for assault, gun charges, and drug related crimes before the age of 20 and I’m not sure any college accepts that kind of record.
I’m Brown. He’s Black.
I’m not allowed to look at 18 year old Elvin Hill and judge him. I had so many more opportunities, opportunities that I hadn’t earned. If one butterfly fluttered differently when I was 4, maybe my life would be similar to Hill’s. It was luck and lack of luck that put us in such different situations. THAT’S the better story. That’s how I look at this individual, not with bitterness, but with understanding. There are Elvin Hills everywhere, being ignored. Ignored by the school systems, ignored by society. They become helpless and are constantly told that they will never be anything. The theory of the ‘looking glass self’ states that we act the way we believe we are being perceived. The world might have told Hill he was nothing, so he acted like he had nothing to lose.
Another fraction of the story:
I told you I found out when I was 18. My mother ended up telling me when I was 19, because that’s when Elvin Hill was finally caught. Imagine that. 15 years to pin the murder on this guy. Now, I can think, “how shitty is that. 15 years to catch my father’s killer, were the detectives asleep? Did they just not care enough?” Or I can look the the individual, Mike Zeller, who was given my father’s case as a detective in Bushwick. He never forgot about him. Retiring in 2005, and becoming a Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s office investigator, he insisted with the feds that he be able to look into the case again. He made a breakthrough when the second young man my father picked up, the one sitting in the back, agreed to testify that Hill had shot my father over $45. Hill was indicted in 2012 and sentenced to 43 years. MIKE ZELLER is the better story. My father wasn’t his business anymore, the guy was retired. But he never forgot about him. 15 years later he did good by our family for reasons that I can’t explain or understand. It was just work left undone, maybe. Or a story of the only person, other than my mother, who was thinking about justice for my father for 15 years and through sheer will and determination, made sure the man who destroyed my family was put to jail for the rest of his life.
Finally the last part of the story I’d like to share:
I am a product of my father’s murder. Everything I am, everything I will be, is because Elvin Hill decided he was gonna shoot my dad. I can use this information by playing the, “what if?” game. What if my father was alive? What if I was still living in Queens, in a working-class family? Would I be happier? Would I be better at talking to girls? Would I find writing and photography? Would I find love? It’s a shitty game. It’s unproductive and impossible to play correctly. The better story is this:
I would never sacrifice the insights, the knowledge and experience I’ve gained to have my father back.
I would never sacrifice my interests and hobbies to have my father back.
I would never sacrifice my step-father, half-sister, and step-brother to have my father back.
I would never sacrifice the girl I love to have my father back.
My father is gone and I am who I am. Life is a circle, he dies every time. There is no what if?, there’s only what now? What can I do now? How can I use this information, these memories, these arbitrary evils, the mistakes, the shit luck, to move myself forward?
We can only control so much of our lives, but we have full control of how we want to perceive them. Choose the better story.
Here’s the article on my father’s murder, published by the New York Daily News.
My best friend recently told me, in one of her “general rules of being,” that people should not act on impulse. She said this clearly, and with no room for compromise. People instead, she’d argue, should think about every decision they make, especially big ones, and imagine all the possible negative outcomes. After doing that little calculation, one would act according to the safest route.
Play it safe.
What a shitty way to live a life. Living in fear of failure. In fear of rejection. In fear of getting hurt. It makes sense, however, and there’s no arguing against the appeal to living safely and living the way ‘one should.’ And you can live and die having lived safely and maybe you wont regret having missed opportunities of greatness or happiness. But just fucking imagine that for a second. Building your whole existence up just to survive comfortably. It’s against our nature to be comfortable. We’re born into suffering, the second you come out of the womb you’re crying and in pain and fucking wishing yourself back to nonexistence. Every day we’re closer to dying. Our bodies and minds are imperfect, we’re being poisoned by man and the machine. This isn’t supposed to be easy. So don’t play it safe. Go fucking head first and say, “fuck you world, I’ll find happiness in all of this shit.” Be impulsive, act on love not calculation.
My favorite film is Good Will Hunting. It’s a story that favors impulse. A genius, Will, is aimless in life and is complacent in bumming around with his buddies. After getting figured out by a professor, he’s thrown into a life of math and is eventually offered big time jobs. He also meets a girl who he falls for, but because of those calculations my best friend is fond of, he decides that she isn’t good for him. She moves away to Cali and he’s left with his genius, his dumb friends, and his work. He can safely navigate his life at this point, and a lot of people would settle with the money, job, and comfort. But he doesn’t, he drops his entire fucking life and goes to, “see about a girl.” The last scene is Will driving towards California, towards uncertainty, with the off-chance that she is worth it. That’s impulse, that’s living.
I’d rather die having followed my heart through this existence than following the rules of the world. I’m gonna be hurt, I’ll fail and be humiliated, I’ll put myself out there just to be ignored, I’ll get sick and injured. I’ll do all these things before I play it safe. And the few moments of love, the moments of joy and fear and ecstasy, the moments of madness and discovery, those few moments will be worth it all. Impulse is letting your heart lead. Impulse is freeing yourself from the black and white. Impulse is love animated, it’s how I will choose to live. Impulse will be the story of me.
We communicate for a lot of reasons. To inform, to extract information, to entertain, to pass the time, to hear ourselves, to criticize, to persuade, to maintain relationships, etc.
If a person wants to communicate effectively and efficiently, she (gonna be using ‘she’ as a generic pronoun for fun) can’t communicate the same way to everyone. A simple example: She wants to inform a young man that his shoes are untied. But they’re in Ecuador and he can only speak Spanish. She has a couple of options-
She keeps trying to tell him in English.
She points at his shoes and plays charades.
She finds a bilingual individual and speaks through her.
Uhh she can also get frustrated and wave him off.
Option #2 is probably the most effective form of communication in this little scenario. Listing shit is so addictive so I’ll do it again. This is why #2 has a high probability of success:
She had a purpose, a reason for communicating.
She read the situation and understood that English would not have been effective.
She abandoned her language and suggested that he’d abandon his. There was compromise. This is a two-party agreement, so if the Ecuadorian man had no interest, the communication would be lost.
She found a common language, body language, and communicated her concern.
Unfortunately, you’ll find that a lot of people go for option #1. They aren’t invested in their reason for communicating, they’ve misread the situation, or they weren’t willing to abandon their language and compromise.
Back to the young (and handsome) Ecuadorian man. The scenario would get considerably more complicated if our hero wanted to talk politics. Shoes are physical, and tying shoes is a familiar motion for those who wear them. Ideas, however, are invisible. She could learn Spanish or go for #3 and find a translator. That’s only half the game. Once she becomes fluent or finds that mediator, she needs to read the situation and figure out if he’s even interested in politics! Imagine learning a language for an individual just to figure out he wasn’t interested to begin with.
Once again we find that even with a common language, or a mediator, or whatever, some people just aren’t great at gauging someone’s interest in what they have to talk about. These are poor communicators, as nothing is being accomplished by their word vomit.
I’m not sure there’s an easy solution for being a poor communicator. My advice is to humble yourself, understand that your message is important to you or the other party, and practice talking to people and targeting their interests and passions.
It’s funny because a lot of these shitty communicators come straight out of academia. Their heads get filled up with all this knowledge and invisible brownie points for doing homework and writing pages and pages of bullshit. And then they go to the average person and talk with the academic voice and use complicated words and confuse whatever message they were ‘trying’ to convey. All that bullshit and fluff. And it sounds cute from the outside, but I’m fluent in the academic language and I know that they can send their message SO much quicker if they just dumbed it down. Unless, of course, if they just like to listen to themselves. If that’s the case, just sit in a mirrored room and jerk yourself off.
The trick of the trade, the trade being communication, is to KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. This isn’t easy at all. Especially if we move away from the one-on-one interactions. Imagine needing to gear your language towards the masses? Why do you think presidents talk in that slow, boring, emotionless cadence? It’s because it is the safest, all encompassing form of English that he could adopt. Now imagine if Obama would communicate in Black English? He comes from an academic background so I’m sure he’s more fluent in Standard American English, but just bear with me. If he got up on the podium and started speaking in African American English Vernacular (AAVE, Black English, ‘Ebonics’) then there would be a LARGE group of Americans that would eat that message up. It would be loud and clear, easy to digest, and would promote a sense a familiarity in all those who are fluent in AAVE. But what about the vast majority of Americans who don’t speak the dialect? They would be confused and frustrated. Knowing your audience in this situation means knowing the majority. So presidents will continue speaking in that boring, slow voice, unfortunately.
For my advanced students, the bonus trick of the trade is CODE SWITCHING. We all do it already, just some of us suck at it or are offensive. Code switching is the seamless transition from one effective language, dialect, etc. to another. For example, the way I speak to my mother is not the way I speak to my friends. The way I speak to my friends is not the way I speak to my hypothetical girlfriend. The way I speak to my professor is not the way I speak to my cousin who lives in the projects and barely made it through high school. Code switching is a sign of a great communicator. Now, it is also difficult to gauge someone’s language before speaking to them. I’d say, in this situation just talk naturally and neutrally. Don’t assume AAVE when you talk to a black dude. Don’t speak slow, broken Spanish when you talk to a brown dude. Yet, people still do those things. That’s not code switching, that’s called being an asshole.
The Lords and Lordesses who created me decided that they wanted to give me a WHOLE lot of energy. Doctors told my sweet mother that I should be medicated to keep my jumpy jeans on. She told them kindly to fuck off. This was during a hard time for her; her husband had just been murdered and she was struggling with thoughts of suicide. My hyperactivity kept her mind busy. She thought my energy was a beautiful thing. A blessing even.
Well, the creators also made sure I was introverted enough that all that energy would be transferred into writing, video games, and masturbation. In no particular order.
Fast forward, I majored in Media Literacy (fancy for Communications) and minored in English at CUNY Queens College. I eventually dropped my minor because I wanted to graduate quicker. I shoved all of my required classes into two semesters, and was left with a final semester consisting of three 300 level writing intensive classes. “That’s a big no-no,” said my advisor. She said a lot of things.
I ended up having to write 3 papers a week for 3 months. I’d stay up all night, muster up all of my superhuman energy and jerk off to keep the lust demons away. Then I would write. I would write and I would write. I earned a 3.9 gpa that semester (humble brag). While I was writing, I also worked and worked out at the YMCA. I did that while finding time to run around Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens to take pictures of my pretty city. And I’d do that while finding the time to tutor the YOUTH in mathematics for food, or money if I was convincing enough. On top of all of that, I spent the remainder of my energy on trying to maintain my dying long distance relationship of almost 5 years, such a great investment that turned out to be.
Graduating was a strange thing for me. A lot of these kids do it the right way and intern so that they have a job when they finish. I couldn’t bother myself with all that. So I graduated and moved back upstate with my mother. I bought myself a car and have been trying to find a job. All that energy that helped me excel in school, run around the city, work, tutor, etc etc. is now unspent. That’s why I’m writing again, because video games and masturbation were getting a little tedious.