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Strictly Good Advice

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Strictly Good Advice,

I have no plans this summer, but people keep asking me what I’m doing. How do I give them an answer?

Thanks,

E.

Hello E., and thank you for your question. I’ll get right to the advice.

I suspect, because you’re asking and unsure, that telling the truth is not (on its own) an option. For whatever good enough reason, you’re up against an inquisitive party that won’t take “nothing” for an answer. It might be that you are unwilling to face the truth directly because it makes you upset, or because you are waiting on some things in your life to line up and that situation is hard to explain, or whatever. I don’t know you, and so I won’t make assumptions. Rather than look for a complicated way to effectively countenance, internalize, and communicate the truth of your situation, I will do my best instead to lay out guidelines so you can offer an untruth that gets the job done. If you’re nervous about lying, try patching your belief in what is right or wrong with a useful auxiliary; maybe lying isn’t always bad, or not every falsehood is a lie, or something isn’t a lie if you don’t want the other person to believe it’s true, etc.

Readers, be aware that I don’t in general condone lying just because it is advantageous or easy. But the demands placed by health and comfort seem, in E.’s case, to have gotten in the way of E.’s ability to be true to others and to herself. In situations like this, I first address pragmatic constraints. If context doesn’t demand honesty or trust, if instead managing expectations or unloading stress take priority, I think there are legitimate applications of fiction as fact. Consider an illustrative example.

Bo and Beau are identical twin siblings who share a bunk bed. Usually, Bo sleeps on top and Beau takes the bottom bunk. Each morning, Bo and Beau are woken up by their father, Baugh. Unfortunately neither Bo nor Beau is allowed to play with toys, keep friends, or otherwise savor the fleeting pleasures of childhood before it’s too late. So, to satisfy their penchant for juvenile mischief, every third Thursday Bo and Beau will switch bunks, i.e., Bo will take Beau’s spot on the top bunk and vice versa. This way, when Baugh comes into the room to commence the daily wakefulness by calling one phonetic “Bo” to attention, they can have a laugh at his trivialized expense. It doesn’t make a difference to Baugh whether Bo or Beau has descended from the top bunk so long as everyone gets to school on time, but the kids really get a kick out of it. This example should provide some evidence that, sometimes, you can give someone a lie and enjoy it, absent of negative consequences.

Once you’ve adjusted your moral compass in whatever suitable way, it’s time to package and present your harmless lie. Your answer should be boring enough that the listener is uncompelled toward follow-up questions, and vague enough that the listener will be blindsided in any attempt to connect your words and those things in the world to which your words look like they refer. Use your knowledge of the audience to  adjust these parameters optimally. Don’t tell a gastroenterologist you’ve just taken a two-month internship inside someone’s colon, because a gastroenterologist will continue to inquire about your exact responsibilities in and around the gut, if the position is paid, where and in which variety of digestive machinery the work takes place, etc. Avoid situations like this.

The last ingredient in crafting a useful, purposeful lie is a significant measure of detachment on your part. Whatever fudged summer plans you choose to put on display shouldn’t be your childhood dream, a job you wanted and didn’t get, or an exciting vacation. Too much investment in the world that sits around your lie will make living in it less comfortable and maybe even painful. Remember that your original aim was to spare yourself another person’s unwanted concern to reduce your net unproductive emotional burden; adding to this burden is antithetical to the advice.  

I will use these – brief, not exhaustive – criteria to give an example of a bad lie and a good lie. First will come the bad lie, then, hopefully, a better one. The difference should be clear, and once it is apparent, you will be better suited to address the rain of unexpected questions about your future from people who didn’t even seem so genuinely interested in your present.

“This summer I will be conducting college-funded independent research into the dietary behaviors of common American raccoons. Every night I will paint up my face and put on a carefully tailored raccoon suit, which is made of environmentally and ethically permissible furlike materials and join my furry friends (a band of 11 raccoons I have started calling “my furry friends”) in their nightly hunt through local suburban trash. For eight weeks I will feed only on whatever bits of garbage I can grab with my little paws (hands that I have started calling “my little paws”), and observe closely the changes to my naturally human, socially raccoon constitution. Various means of statistical analysis will follow to isolate important trends in the data. When the semester starts, I’ll present the interpreted findings on a trifold poster.”

“This summer I will be with a private group that works on various projects, but I’m not too sure exactly what I’ll be doing there.”

 

Strictly good advice

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Strictly Good Advice,

 

When do I know if I have something worth writing or saying?

 

Thanks,

 

Christian.

 

Hello, Christian, and thanks for your question. I enjoyed this question because working toward an answer led me to internalize some personally important facts. Confidence in my justification for the quality of the things I write and say is critical for writing an advice column in which there is a total absence of credibility; in more positive language, I am writing from a position of incredibility. Playing tricks on words to make them sound more charitable and generous to yourself is a piece of advice I am giving you for free, because I appreciated the question very much.

My answer to your question has three parts. First, I aim to identify two problem spaces of your question and describe one of them in some detail. Then I will demonstrate a problem with the relationship between your decision to say something and your ability to evaluate that utterance. I will conclude with a practical suggestion, my usual strategy for managing self doubt in my words.

You are uncertain about the value of the things you write or say. I will focus on two main aspects of this uncertainty: (1) the architecture of your self-esteem and (2) your fluency managing different criteria for meaning in different contexts. I have numbered these two points to reflect the order in which they will be presented for discussion. There may be other elements to your indecisive hesitation in sharing your thoughts; you may, for example, be nervous about the worth of your commentary because you suffer from a cognitive disorder that limits your accessible thoughts to facts about toasters, and are desperate for a way to make people see the importance of your insight into various temperatures and durations of toasting, your many valuable experiences preparing the various breads, etc. Such concerns are out of my depth, and so I will stop short of having three things to say.

Maybe you believe that you hold back when expressing yourself, and that this holding back is a consequence of a more foundational deficiency in the credit you give yourself for getting through each day without burning the toast. I observe that moments of anxiety over the legitimacy of my speech find their roots in more general issues with my confidence. Hesitation over whether you should speak what is on your mind is in this sense a superfluous consequence of hesitation over whether you should do anything at all. If you believe that your desires to think and act somehow face goodness – and they may not, e.g.,  if you’re the type who only appreciates toasters for their potential to incite catastrophic blaze, this advice doesn’t apply – then you should assume that they warrant pursuit. If it helps you, get a T-shirt with a dipping check mark and “JUST DO IT” branded into the chest. This way you can look in the mirror and your question is answered. Or you may imagine some more confident friend or loved one of yours, who thinks you are worth their time. So long as such a person’s existence is in principle possible, we’ve reason to suppose an association between your outward life and other confident people’s interest in it, which would be a good evidential basis for some self-motivated encouragement to speak confidently. There are lots of ways to improve your confidence, and I can’t possibly exhaust them or even give them a fair representation in this column. My point is rather to suggest that strengthening your conviction in your virtues more generally will support your belief that investing in your own words is worthwhile. I will say so much for (1), and continue as briskly as possible because I have been getting a little carried away.

The problem posed in (2) is more complicated, or at least my exposure to literature on the topic has been limited. For these and other reasons I am taking a pass on it. To be fair, I only said that I would explain one of the two numbered points above. If you were unsatisfied with the depth of this discussion and would like to ask a follow-up question, refer to the information given below the column.

If a decision to say something depends on other people receiving it well, and it is impossible to know whether or not people have received it well unless you have already said it, it is thus impossible to decide whether or not to say something depending upon its reception by others. In fact, the speaker is not even in an appropriately informed position to evaluate her own speech, at least not before it has been said, because no one knows what any of the qualities of the speech are, let alone whether or not they can be evaluated generously. This suggests that a preemptive positive judgment may be an unreasonable standard to which to hold one’s own speech. So if you’re looking for a reason why you should choose to say certain things rather than others, it should probably not be that any person likes certain things rather than others; read into that whichever individualist cliché that you like best.

As I promised earlier, I will conclude the advice by describing a practical example illustrating a technique that I use to quickly determine whether one of my mental deliberations is worth verbalizing. The technique is a short list of questions about the statement in question. We will demonstrate the power of these questions by their application to the example.

Consider the toaster enthusiast mentioned earlier. For simplicity’s sake let’s give her a name, something easy, like Toastina. Toastina is at a party, where she is chatting with an attractive classmate who seems to appreciate the difference between variable time versus heat considerations in the most suitable preparation of an average sample of wheat bread. Toastina would like to remark to her peer that, depending on the size X of the slice S, a toasting function of N minutes at temperature T in a vertically oriented pop-up cooker will best prime S for the distribution of butter D at some intersection of these relevant variables. She would be well-suited to ask the following questions about this claim, before she faces brutal indifference at the hand of a potential companion: is what I am about to say vitally important to the interlocutor’s ability to understand what I believe in a sense meaningful to the conversation? Is what I am about to say going to offend someone, and if so, is it an appropriate situation in which to provoke this offense? Does what I am about to say give the interlocutor something to say (or at least think) in response?

In Toastina’s unfortunate case, her rich understanding of the mechanics of toasting are, for better or for worse, indispensable to a comprehensive description of her character, and if you are trying to get someone to know you, such a description is vitally important to the conversation. I see no reason why on the face of things her claim about toast is offensive, so she passes the second interrogative hurdle. At the end of this procedure, we see that Toastina’s impassioned remark about optimal cooking protocol fails to be “worth” saying, unless of course she’s got reason to believe that her partner in conversation has also got something really deep and specific to say about toasting bread, or at least would be interested in some such thing. For now I’ll make the pessimistic assumption that she has not been so lucky as to find a person like this.

 

In need of some strictly good advice? Send your question by e-mail to strictlygoodadvice (at) gmail (dot) com, or by following the hyperlink below.

https://goo.gl/forms/44UxLFt5UsiZPiJD2.

Strictly Good Advice

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Strictly Good Advice,

 

What’s the best way to get someone you don’t like to stop talking to you? This is a person who wants to be friends with me, but I don’t want to be friends with them. I have expressed sentiments of kindness and friendliness towards them in the past.

Thanks,

Eudora

 

Hello and thank you for the question. For experimental purposes, I will omit the usual disclaimer. I would like to see if anybody writes back dissatisfied with the applicability of my advice.

This is the special Valentine’s Day edition of STRICTLY GOOD ADVICE. I have chosen to commemorate the occasion with your question because it is a good reminder that the plasticky comforts of the commercial holiday can sometimes fail. Just because it is called a holiday, does not mean that your usual concerns – ischemic heart disease, career trajectory, computer uprising – get the day off. Engagements, marriages, committed relationships of all kinds have met their demise on even less convenient days than this one. As a symbolic thorn of this constant awareness, then, I offer your case as a less dramatic cousin to the tragic Valentine’s Day breakup. You wish to halt the nascent ingrowth of a doomed friendship. I will examine the necessary steps to peel back some pitiful schmuck’s parasitic advance into your social life.

If you have already been “kind and friendly” (your words) to this person, it is probably too late to take any action that “without hurting them.” Acknowledge your complicity in this hurt briefly, and then put your awareness aside. Maybe you are at fault for something or should have acted differently or even “known better,” but I don’t think understanding the informative content of observations made in hindsight is very useful in this situation. At best, it will lead you to some conclusion about your virtues, or the virtues of your actions, their consequences, etc.; at worst it will spin you into reflective limbo. So rigorous contemplation about personal history is probably not worth the labor; I have done better in situations like yours by prioritizing haste in my thinking and choosing. Pocket whatever knowledge of your recent mistakes is readily accessible and clean up your mess. There’s no better time than the present to tell someone their best attempts at friendship are no more than the cloying ooze of a candied slug. Salt that slug before it gets too close, too confident, too interested in how your day was and what you’re doing this weekend.

By now it is clear that denying people your friendship requires first committing to negativity and silence. You should have a good reason for completely refusing the efforts of the interested party. It’s not easy to intentionally stomp on the efforts of an interested party. To spare yourself as much excess guilt, empathetic fatigue or whatever else, consider these intentions carefully. There is no set of normative criteria for when it is time to sever a social tie, but there are some good heuristics for when the option is on the table. Mine include safety, comfort, or serious inconvenience. For example, I will deny friendship to someone who hurts me, sneezes on me, or brings their pet bird to my house without asking. Usually when I want to dissolve my friendships, I stop and reconsider. Can I cut someone off just because they keep asking me for advice, but outwardly refuse to send their questions to my struggling advice column? Is it right to withdraw myself categorically from anyone with a pet bird? I cannot advise you too closely on where to draw this line on snub-worthy behaviors, because it is a personal and circumstantial decision, and I know neither your personality nor your circumstances.

If you can assent to all requisite meanness, the next step in de-friending a person is to take verbal action. Sometimes you can ignore a person for long enough and they will understand the tacit rebuke. This is what is called “getting the message.” Often enough though, part of the problem with the person of disinterest is an incapacity to get this kind of message. I have a feeling your situation is something like this; I imagine whatever hints or nudges you have given this person of your social intentions have failed to penetrate the soft tissues of the unrelenting slugperson. If so, the next step for you is to decide the best way to interpret the content of your silences and package them in the most obvious way possible.

Translating from implicit to explicit meaning is tricky and the result may assume a variety of forms. How you choose to do it is a many-valued function of your experience with and ability to deliver bad news. Below I offer a mad-lib style template for what you might say to someone if, whatever relationship you have with someone, you did not intend for it to involve friendship. I suppose this is all you really wanted, Eudora, when you asked your question, but I gave you the rest because I cared enough to write you those words. In fact, I feel something of a friendship budding between us, even though we are just strangers. And you would respond in kind as follows.

Hello [NOUN]. I hope you are [ADJECTIVE] and that your [NOUN] is going or doing well. I would prefer if you no longer [VERB PHRASE], because I have been feeling [ADVERB] about the way you [VERB] sometimes, especially about [NOUN]. Your tendency to [VERB PHRASE] makes me feel [ADJECTIVE PHRASE] about [NOUN]. I hope you don’t take this too personally, even if it is exclusively a comment on your personal behavior. I am sorry to be so [ADJECTIVE], but I really don’t think friendship is a good relationship for us to have right now. Perhaps we should stop [VERB ENDING IN -ING] for a while. I hope I have not caused you too much distress. Try and remember that it’s not you, it’s [NOUN].      

In need of some STRICTLY GOOD ADVICE? Send your questions to strictlygoodadvice at gmail dot com or submit them by online form at the web address http://bit.ly/2svahLZ.

 

Strictly Good Advice

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Dear Strictly Good Advice,

I have been scrutinized for remaining friends with people who are controversial because they exhibited poor judgment in the past. How do I be proud of and loving to my friends while not feeling embarrassed at the same time?

Yours,

Duane

Hello, Duane, and thanks for the question. I would like to point out that although the number of the year has gone up by one since the last publication of this column, the number of my credentials and formal qualifications has gone up by zero. Given this observation I will make the familiar disclaimer that it is not my intention to advocate for any specific life decision with serious consequences. What I’ve written here is supposed to be fun to read; any insight or motivation to act is incidental and the full responsibility of the reader.

I imagine your friend’s transgressive behavior belongs to a class of more-than-superficial, but less-than-fundamental, disagreements between sensibilities. The nature of the misdeed at the root of the controversy is more likely a careless error than it is a deliberate attack. I do not suspect that this friend is a violent, remorseless criminal or has some solid personal quality that makes you unsafe. For the purposes of this discussion your friend may qualify for critical adjectives in the vein of obnoxious or unaware; I aim to make no comment here on your friends whose track records bespeak adjectives like hateful, malicious, or prejudiced. To simplify the problem that you are posing for the sake of analysis, I’ll define the salient characterization of your friend’s position in some relevant organization (a handful of friends, a chamber ensemble, an online forum for fungal recreationists) as a “social gray area.” The prickly combination of details surrounding your friend’s offense make it difficult for you to take a clear position in one camp or the other. While I am not in general a big proponent of defining my own terms, introducing the notion of a social gray area will allow me to avoid taking a complicated stance on any moral dilemma emergent upon the details of the relationship between you, your controversial friend, and some other persons with supposedly valuable opinions on the company you keep. I think that by investigating some common features of a typical reaction to a situation that in any sense is considered a “gray area,” some light will be shed on the appropriate reaction to the social “gray area” in your horizons.

Some decisions, like which advice columns are for reading and which advice columns are merely sent to your email by questionable online-only publications to be ignored, are easy to make. But others, like whether I am comfortable pardoning a friend’s offensive behavior as a condition of my relationship with them, make me nervous. I think it is often impractical to decide. I find, in situations like yours, that the labor required to resolve tensions of rational or emotional uncertainty by deciding exceeds the positive consequences of choosing one way or another. In this kind of case, my recommendation is to ignore the disease by avoiding arrangements of circumstance that make its symptoms felt. If you have a stomach virus, forego any vigorous hopping you had scheduled and spend some time in bed; analogously if you’re not sure which friend to side with in an argument, hang out with somebody else. Think of it as shrewd management of emotional resources. It may seem like I am suggesting you avoid the problem. This is not entirely wrong. I think it is within reason to downgrade some social hurricanes to not-your-problem status, so long as the crisis will not roll inertially without your conscious intervention. If the discrepancy among your friends remains a social gray area, it is fine to make a practical rather than decisive judgment and punt on some interpersonal jury duty. Do not assume the role of mediator unless you are convinced that your time would be better spent doing more hard work.

The bottom line, Duane, is to ignore the conflict by ignoring the involved parties. This may be hard to accept, especially if you like your friends and don’t want to be apart from them. But it’s not so bad in practice. Consider the worst-case scenario in which you have only two friends, Jerry and Jerry’ (that’s to be read “Jerry prime”), and they hate each other. Jerry has told you that he believes your relationship with Jerry’ is an abomination and vice versa. Both Jerry and Jerry’ have given you the same ultimatum: you can no longer have a friendship between each of them separately. It’s one or the other. If you follow the thread of the advice presented in this column so far, you will tell both Jerry and Jerry’ that they need to get their shit together without you and think of a better way to go about this. You might try to make a new friend, Jerry” (to be read “Jerry double prime”), or else spend some quality time on your own. This seems reasonable, and I would do it. If you are unconvinced, consider the following paragraph in which I have enumerated some of the amazing things you can do if you are alone:

When you are alone you are free to solicit as many questions from strangers as you want. You can do this by a variety of media, like email or anonymous online form. Being on one’s own offers a chance to ponder reader-submitted questions about whether a bidet is better than toilet paper and what was the last thing you killed with your car. If you don’t have to worry about people you know, you’re free to worry about people you don’t know. So pick a question and spend a couple of weeks mulling over it until you’ve got something to say. Maybe you will be proud enough to publish it, maybe not, but it only takes one person to try your very best.

In need of some strictly good advice? Send questions to strictlygoodadvice@gmail.com, or by maritime flag signal to the author.

Strictly Good Advice

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Strictly Good Advice,

How do I handle setbacks?

Clarissa.

Hello Clarissa, and thanks for the question. Before I get on with the advice, I will paraphrase the usual disclaimer. I have no credentials or qualifications – really, none – and so I am neither credentialed nor qualified to help you with your problem. Talk to an opinionated expert if you find yourself contemplating a decision that might benefit from a little expert opinion. I will also say that Strictly Good Advice has been with you since the beginning. Think about that when an electronic flyer tells you that someone else is now taking anonymous questions for a new advice column. Think about who really has your best interests at heart.

It might help for the sake of the advice if I had some context – the kinds of setbacks you are experiencing, your usual strategies for managing similar issues, some information about your personality or your circumstances, etc. A little information would have gone a long way toward providing an adequate response. In the future you should also try and form your question more carefully. I don’t know what you consider a “setback,” and I won’t make any assumptions about what qualifies as “handled.” I hope you can believe that I say this not to be a snob, Clarissa; I mention the limitations on my ability to provide helpful advice so that you will be more understanding if I fail to address your concern adequately. I did it for my sake, too: it will be easier to proceed if I have some way to silence the natural urge toward unproductive self-discouragement that comes about whenever a reasonable goal becomes farther out of reach, i.e., whenever I have been “set back.”

If we consider the problems with the question (its omission of critical details, its weak grip on vocabulary) to be a setback, then we might say consider the setback successfully handled when the question is answered, despite the apparent obstacles. The first step towards handling my setback has already been taken: sharing the constraints under which the job is done will help me do it. Taking this communicative step gives me the peace of mind I need to work effectively and gives you the information you need to make good use of whatever work I present. This is important because you came to me for advice, and my options are to either give it to you at any cost or to let you take your questions elsewhere. So I will do whatever it takes to get you your advice. While it appears that my approach to this setback depends on an unhealthy trivialization of the challenge or the psychiatrically incredulous assumption that one can flip a cognitive switch and magically activate their productive capacity, doing “whatever it takes” is actually more reasonable than you might expect. In fact, we have already established the first thing that it takes: if it’s relevant to them, let other people know that there are specific reasons why it’s hard to accomplish the task you’ve obligated yourself to accomplish. The rest of this column will roughly characterize the remaining components of “whatever it takes.”

We have established that communicating your difficulties is essential, but it unfortunately does not make them go away. I must now choose to either (1) attempt to resolve these problems or (2) excuse them as beyond my control and plod along with my best effort. In my case this decision is easy to make: because this is an advice column and not psychological counseling, I will not be able to ask you to clarify or elaborate on anything you’ve already said. All questions are to be addressed as-is; a Socratic back-and-forth is out of the question. I’ve agreed to give anonymous advice, not to be an anonymous confidant/therapist. I don’t even have any information about you except for a name that I made up. So I must proceed knowingly within the restraints of the medium or else let my readers lose their faith and start getting their advice from potential undesirables on the Internet. I value and respect my readers. Thus, to address the dilemma presented at the beginning of this paragraph and carry on with the advice, I will go with option (2): I will excuse myself of conditions beyond my control and trudge forward.

This is easier said than done. Because I can’t guarantee that the environment in which my advice comes about will be perfectly conducive to good advice, I can’t guarantee that my advice will be good. This troubling fact has me racked with harmful reservations; how can I, in good conscience, continue to advertise my Strictly Good Advice if it might be Strictly Middling Advice? How can I, lacking basic self-confidence, carry on sneak attacking the Daily Gazette when I don’t even believe that my own work is any good? I will dismiss these questions by recourse to the previous paragraph, in which I resigned myself to plodding. If I accept that I am mechanically satisfying the bare minimum of necessary tasks with only whatever creativity is most readily available, I can skip the agonizing reflection that naturally follows when I assume full responsibility for my actions. Be careful that you only plod to the degree that it helps you overcome your obstacle. Otherwise, you risk regression into toddlerhood or robotic indifference – neither of which is a good look on the readership, whom I hold in high esteem.

After you have done enough plodding, the hope is that your initially confounding circumstances – or your perspective on them – will change. I have observed that as time goes on, memories lose their sensatory content, remaking themselves into words and concepts in my aging mind. This is a descriptive rather than normative claim, and I am unprepared to argue in its defense. My point is that, viewed in retrospect, how you feel often becomes less important than what you feel. Tactile discomforts become vague while socially informed abstractions take center stage. And the less descript your recollection of physical phenomena gets, the easier it becomes to deal with the fact that you were stuck in the mud. Eventually you regain your confidence. The setback has been successfully handled. You may now package your misfortune into a thoughtful, if kind of nebulous question, and send it to your favorite advice columnist.

In need of some strictly good advice? Send a question by electronic mail to strictlygoodadvice(at)gmail(dot)com (your name will not be included in the column unless by request), or by snail mail to the author at 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA, 19081.

Strictly Good Advice

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Strictly Good Advice,

 

What are some tips to keep life exciting?

 

Bertram

 

Hello, Bertram, and thanks for the question. Before we proceed with the advice, I will remind our readers everywhere that Strictly Good Advice is, legally and ethically, an entertainment column. Whatever practical wisdom results from its consumption is a product/responsibility of the reader’s critical license; inform this license with the expert opinion of an actual professional before making life decisions with serious consequences.  

 

When you ask for tips to keep life exciting, I imagine you are asking about some action that you can regularly and easily take to increase the excitement you derive from some everyday behavior. I will not consider material acquisition in this class of actions — while a tour de force of the Croatian nightclub scene or some convincing knockoff Supreme is likely to spark thrills, I believe that one’s access to excitement should be independent of one’s financial standing or tastes in consumer goods. So among the conventionally exciting things that will not be included in my strictly good tips for keeping life exciting are backpacking, electronics, fashion, restaurants, bar crawls, romantic getaways, cultural events, jetskis, extreme sports, running for public office, and drugs. Instead we will investigate the efficacy of some immaterial lifestyle choices. A salient example would be sprinkling alliterative sentences into your standard-issue prose. That is something I do as regularly as possible to keep my own life exciting. I will skim a couple of popular options for sustained kicks as well as their caveats, and then present a tactic that I employ in my personal life.

 

On one view, excitement requires something like a regular booster shot of “Wow!” juice to the head; in this framework the potential for excitability depends on the satisfaction of goals. When I use the word “goals” I don’t necessarily mean productive goals. I could refer to something as basic as the meeting of a biological urge (a long piss, a long overdue meal) or something constructed and complicated (a promotion, a date with tennis champion and maternity phenomenon Serena Williams) and the phrase would mean the same thing. It is at least a little exciting to correctly execute life functions. Correctly execute the most life functions and it follows that you will be the most excited. The problem with this schema is that it is hard to tell which goals are truly exciting to meet and which goals merely appear exciting to meet. The satisfaction of certain goals may require submission to more tedium or suffering than they are worth, and if you can’t make this judgment immediately, you will unknowingly work toward goals with no prospects of net excitement.

 

Another idea is that excitement requires something like a satisfaction of a death drive. Driving at ludicrous speeds instead of normal speeds would, in this respect, be exciting. There is a physiological basis for this phenomenon, but I will defer to the academic literature on that matter. The takeaway is that if you subscribe to this epinephrine-contingent theory of excitement, then you should be as close to dying as possible for as much of your time alive as possible. Stray from the sidewalk and skip through the middle of the road. Take the stairs up and down in increasing integer multiples at a time. Send an adoring letter to tennis champion and maternity phenomenon Serena Williams. Constantly be risking as much as possible so that no matter how meager the rewards your actions warrant, each tiny movement forward feels like a successful triumph of life over death, immense pleasure over incredible pain. I do not recommend this approach, but it is out there for the more reckless personality types among the readership. I will say that, in carefully measured doses, risk-taking can be a renewable source of free excitement. The problem with accepting this claim is that moderation itself is not very exciting. Ice cream is exciting in any volume, but eating an appropriate amount of ice cream with appropriate frequency has a self-flagellating aftertaste. At this point it looks as if our only options as mortals seeking excitement are to live on the precipice or to freeze ourselves in baptist penance. I believe there is a workaround to this existential dilemma.

 

It is easier to deal with issues of outlook than with issues of action. Your opinion on social issues can change as a result of reading or conversation, but your physical habits and actionable tendencies can resist lifetimes of cognitive behavioral therapy. In that vein, I suggest we shift our focus from changing and adopting excitement-conducive actions toward a new perspective on the nature of excitement. Test out this maxim: everything that happens is exciting until proven boring. Waking up, waiting rooms, bumper-to-bumper traffic — any possible arrangement of atoms could speak to your sense of excitement. It may not, but the implied necessity of thorough investigation and trial will make it harder to abandon your assumption. If you have trouble rewriting your personal legislation, you may consider the argument sketched in the following paragraph. I have found it especially useful when I have doubts about the fundamentally exciting nature of ordinary life events.

 

Human life at its most boring is the labor of trillions (yes, trillions) of cells with operations as complex as any human city. It is intuitively plausible that among the trillions of thousands of interactions taking place, at least one of them is exciting. If none of them could possibly be exciting, no scientist would find excitement in her job observing and analyzing these interactions in some capacity. It is intuitively plausible that there is at least one scientist who finds her work exciting. In fact, I know a scientist who finds her work exciting, so there must be one. I accept, then, that any aspect of human life has at least one exciting thing about it. So I have no problem imagining that, insofar as its exciting qualities are relevant, anything has some exciting quality. That is not to say that every scene in the quotidian mess of life is anything like a light lunch or maybe early dinner with tennis champion and maternity phenomenon Serena Williams. What I mean to say is echoed in Mary Poppins, the only work of musical theater that hasn’t sparked in me the desire to do a bad thing to an innocent person. “In every job that must be done,” Ms. Poppins says, “there is an element of fun.”

 

In need of some strictly good advice? Send a question by electronic mail to strictlygoodadvice(at)gmail(dot)com, or by snail mail to the author at 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA, 19081.

 

Eight things Specs Should Know before Choosing Swat

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

For all its eccentricities, strengths, and flaws, I really love Swarthmore. It is a quirky, nerdy, beautiful place full of amazing people —some of whom I’ve met already, others whom I’m excited to one day meet. It’s true, Swat is not for everyone: it’s a combination of exquisite niches that will either make you absolutely fall in love with it or hate it. So, I talked a bit with some of my friends here at Swat and compiled a list of things we all wish we knew, or feel like Specs should know, before coming to Swarthmore.

It’s small size can be either one of its greatest strengths or greatest weaknesses. The college’s small size fosters an incredibly close-knit sense of community. Since everyone knows everyone, we all look out for each other, and we see each other everyday! However, this also means that you see all the people you’d rather not see everyday. Being a small campus also means that if you like to have things bustling 24/7, this is not the place for you. That’s not to say Swatties don’t make their own fun. From guitar circles to plays to Lang study breaks (free food!), there is usually always something to do on campus, even if it doesn’t seem like it most of the time.

It’s as much work as people say. It’s true that Swatties are huge nerds. Only a huge nerd would choose to go to a school with so much damn work. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the constant feeling of “it’s study time” for the majority of the day. However, if you really love the work you’re doing, then it’s usually worth it.

Swarthmore’s not perfect, but there’s a large space for activism. As liberal and forward-thinking as people make Swarthmore out to be, this place has some problematic aspects. However, these usually serve to show the resolve and persistence of activism among students on this campus as they stand up against the issues they have with the college and its administration.

Swarthmore will change you. You will discover things about yourself you never knew, some good some bad – some in between. This is an intense environment full of fascinating people. Don’t come expecting to leave the same person you came as.

This campus is on a hill— and you never get used to it.

You’ll sleep everywhere. When you’re only getting a solid 5 hours of sleep per night, you’ll make up for it in creative ways. Not only will you partake in the infamous McCabe nap, but you’ll find yourself falling asleep in an array of unique locations. I’ve probably fallen asleep in almost every academic building on campus (yes, that includes in and out of classes).

It’s not hard to make friends. Seriously, just go for it. Swatties may be notoriously awkward, but that’s part of what takes the pressure off. It’s super easy to grab a meal with someone you don’t really know well, so just ask! Swatties are interesting and friendly people so you shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to meet more of them.

It’s not as radical and weird as it used to be. The Swarthmore I heard of had orgies on Parish Beach and an annual Crunkfest (“A tradition that involved public nudity, hallucinogenic drugs, and public sex all taking place on Swarthmore’s campus” to quote a 2016 article in the Phoenix). However, as the administration has cracked down on various activities the craziness of Swarthmore’s past is less visible on campus. I have hope that with the collective effort of current Swatties and the incoming class of 2021, we can dare to make Swat wild again.

Instead of Calling, London Answers

in Campus Journal/London Calling by

“Why don’t boys ever ask me on dates?” — Blair Helena Strocht

Dear Blair,

The possibilities are endless. Maybe they don’t get you, or they’re intimidated by your looks and aesthetic, or maybe they haven’t been romantically socialized properly. If you feel like a change, there’s no harm in reinventing your look in a way you feel comfortable doing: everybody notices the effort that went into the fresh start of changing your hair, makeup, clothes, gait, accent, or name. If you dig it, maybe someone else will?

Honestly, the reason may well be that boys are dumb and often need a bit of help with these things. Have you considered trying to plant the idea in their head, in such a way they think they’ve come up with it? If you don’t think this boy even thinks of you romantically, you could find out what their ex-girlfriend used to wear, and put on a similar outfit on a day you knew you’d see him: visual association might drop a hint. To really get the full effect, imitate her laugh or vernacular, but that might be pushing it. Alternatively, if you think the boy already has a thing for you but just needs that extra push, become an agent of fate—play the role destiny would have had she been on your side. Create a fake AOL address and forward him (amongst other people, not to look suspicious) a mass email, urging those who read it to ask out the next person they see. Of course, you should sit across from him as he checks his email, which shouldn’t be a particular issue. For a more cinematic effect, get a friend to “accidentally” push you into the boy of your liking as he walks past, spilling hot tea over the both of you, and then dab off the steamy, fragrant liquid with the tissue you were clutching in your other hand for this purpose. If you stare into his eyes with enough intensity, he’ll probably offer to get you another beverage.

I understand this might be a lot of planning for an awkward couple hours sipping a coffee he’ll probably make you pay for anyways. It might be wisest in the end to count your blessings and enjoy the people who are already in your life, instead of waiting for more to show up.

“How can I stop intense emotions and a general fear of what the future holds from impeding my productivity? Should I try?” — Worried and Wistful in Willetts

Dear Worried and Wistful,

If you’ve ruled out upping your Klonopin dosage, I honestly don’t know whether there’s anything that will work for certain. Amidst your options, you could try and confront some of the situations causing intense emotion in order to find solace. If you’re in confusing territory with a partner, try to straighten things out and Define the Relationship™. If you have a big, fat ugly crush on someone, let yourself feel these emotions with some cathartic self indulgence—for me, that would be fantasizing about it with some chocolate, a bubble bath, and musical soundtracks. I tend to feel more clear headed afterwards. With regards to your future, taking concrete steps to organize and plan ahead the next few months to make it seem more concrete. Have you tried emailing a potential employer, or setting up a booty call for when you get back home?

Beyond this, you and your therapist are on your own. Emotions can suck, but at least they’re proof you’re alive. If you can, channel your lost productivity into a creative endeavor, like writing angsty poetry, jacking off on cam or making fun of yourself. Good luck!

“What do you do if the best sex of your life is off limits?” — Ice Princess

Dear Ice Princess,

This is a tough one. Assuming off limits is a hard category, I see a two-pronged course of action. On the one hand, you need to make sure that the option is still available when the situation reverses itself. Are they in a relationship, or maybe your best friend is in love with them? In the grand scheme of things, this is all temporary, and if the sex is that good you want to be an eligible bachelorette when circumstances change. This is a subtle process: smile warmly, but only when it’s right; touch their arm, but act surprised that you did it. You’re aiming for those fleeting moments of intimacy and tension that leave a lasting impression and keep you on their mind despite the circumstances. All of this, by the way, assumes that a direct method would be taboo: “Hey, I know things wouldn’t work right now but let me know if you wanna fuck when things change, ok?”

The other option to try in the meantime is recreating what made the sex so good with other partners, if possible. Did they give head like a god? Were they creative with their pacing? Did they hover inches from your face, lips ajar, for just the right amount of time? As much as you can’t fuck the person you like right now, you can ask your current partners to be more like them, under the guise of useful tips to get you off and healthy communication. Your last option is in your fantasies, so throw on a blindfold or just let your mind drift the next time you get laid. I personally think there’s something extremely glamorous to screaming out the wrong name during orgasm (as long as you aren’t with someone you’re particularly emotionally committed to), so I’d do it just for that.

I know none of this is perfect, but if the sex you’re missing really is that great, I don’t know what will be. :/

“It is morally dubious to sleep with a guy 85% because I admire his kayaking prowess?” — Class V Bitch

Dear Class V Bitch,

You’re asking whether it’s reprehensible to chose a sexual partner based on his display of upper body finesse as he maneuvers down a rapid using a glorified long, rigid rod? If he can work that paddle who knows what else he can do. Go for it.

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