Woke up this morning to an email about the following web series.

Watched one at random, the one below. 

I don’t know anyone who couldn’t benefit from watching this. Really. Just the right advice, permission, relevancy, inspiration, and so much more.

Certainly going to check out the whole series.

Please enjoy and listen.

It’s been close to exactly two years since I’ve written.

See, life should be simple for me, but it’s not. Not gonna go into the hows and whys, but just leave it out there that there’s some complexity in life. Your’s too? Yup, it’s the human condition. And we all decide what we’re gonna do next based on unique individual situations.

This comes down to many months of not therapeutic writing, because that’s what this really has been for me. Not me being the wise man bearing wisdom, but me being the guy who’s trying to understand what he doesn’t already know, and by that understand himself a little better. And exert some rational control into the mix.

Hope you got through that paragraph OK, should be downhill from here.

The upshot is that over the months I still had ideas for what I wanted to write. And when I did, I put them on my to-do list. That is to say, I created a 99% empty post that I intended to write later. You know, when things got simple.

Anyway, I was talking with a friend tonight and showed him the site. I thought I’d written more. I thought I’d written more recently.  I had not.

So anyway, now I’m going to try to.  No schedule, no deadlines, just intent.

That’ll have to do. It’s on my “to-do” list.

Ric Bretschneider
October 16, 2016

I cook a lot more these days. Once you learn a few tricks, it’s the only sure-fire way to get what you want, when you want it, the way you want it. Of course, those tricks are not always obvious. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I first started cooking for myself when I was in middle-school. I’d rush home after having ignored most of the bag lunch my mother had packed for me, and go right to the kitchen. Mom stocked the refrigerator with a large plastic bag of frozen hamburger patties. She was a frugal woman and made them herself. Then I’d grab this cute little frypan that was just the right size for a single patty, and throw it on the burner. I’d hit 10 for the highest level of heat, and then grab the bottle of A1 sauce.http://www.kraftrecipes.com/recipes/all-a1-burgers-109542.aspx

I’d learned that I liked A1 on hamburgers. My dad introduced me to it. It had more kick than catchup, and when it crusted up on the meat it actually got a bit sweeter too. So with the directness that comes from unsupervised youth, I’d learned to just cook the frozen patty in a pool of A1 sauce.

That little pan spit and burped and smoked and sputtered with the meat occasionally bouncing back and forth under the saucy boil. The smoke was mostly whisked away by the grill vent, but even later in the evening I expect you could still smell the effects of my cooking. The burger finally made its way into the bun, a little more A1 added, and that was my regular after-school snack. Yeah, I didn’t worry about carbs, fat, sodium, or sugar in those days.

Hope you’re still with me, the gross part is over.

I do a lot more low-oil stir-fry these days. I have a very nice 14″ wide wok pan that is my go-to for just about everything.  Only about 4″ of pan surface actually makes contact with the heating element, the sides of the pan about that are just radiating heat up from that area. I cook with lots more vegetables now too. They really ought to teach nutrition in school beyond just that dumbed-down division of meats, carbs and veggies. More than nutrition, they should teach how you can make the food you eat taste better.

For me, that started with understanding the effect of low heat. Subtle cooking, not overpowering the natural flavor with things that didn’t taste anything like what was being cooked. Letting the food warm slowly, gaining or losing texture and flexibility, avoiding scorching the exterior while the interior remained raw. Learning the difference, for example, between fried, grilled, and caramelized onions. One ingredient, three distinctly different results. Mostly due to time and heat.

Again, the subtle stuff.

Dialing it down, after all.

I was at the stove earlier this week when it all unexpectedly came together. I was caramelizing onions, something that takes a bit of patience but has wonderful results. Caramelized onions are the candy of veggies. You use really low heat, so it takes longer to caramelize the onions than to make the rest of the stir-fry.

I recalled how I tried to rush cooking things as a kid, to get on with it, get it over and start eating so I could finish eating and get on to something else. Thinking that, like some kind of race, and that I could get there faster if I put my foot down on the gas pedal. Turn the heat up, seems so simple, so obvious.

And of course, almost entirely wrong if you’re trying to prepare an enjoyable meal.

But what really struck me was how I’m starting, at this late date, to realize something else. You’re smart, you’ve probably already gotten here, but I need to finish this up and I’m not rushing it.

Life needs to cook on low heat as well. Life doesn’t do well on high heat. You need to stretch out the process, not delaying or stalling, but making sure you completely understand it. Applying just enough heat to get things done, but remaining in control, thinking through what you’re trying to do. Not just reacting quickly, not just turning the effort dial up and hoping for the best result. But understanding what the result you’re going for is going to look like. Maybe even what it’s going to feel like, to smell and taste like.

And learning the best methods for getting there. To realize you never stop learning, and if you’re smart you never stop trying new things just because the old way works “good enough.” Tracking your progress, making small adjustments, keeping everything in view and really paying attention. Slowing down can make it more enjoyable as well, of course it’s essential to know why you’re slowing down.

Living an enjoyable life is like preparing an enjoyable meal. Just the right amount of thought, intention, execution and focus on enjoyment.

Come to think of it, that goes for eating too.  In life and cooking, you have to stop every now and then and smell the hamburger.

Ric Bretschneider
October 14, 2016

 

It’s slightly rough. Sure, it comes with a notation from a church. Maybe you don’t trust church messages. It’s not my church, I don’t intend on seeking them out, but I’m happy they put this together. The point is kind of a fundamental reason I keep coming back to the whole “Dialing it Down” thing. I’m not going to spoil it for you though.

Leave it that I need reminders like this every now and then.

Maybe you do too.

Ric Bretschneider
January 17, 2016

Back before the Internet became ubiquitous, we had bulletin board systems. These were basically one computer with a modem, running software that simply recorded typed conversations between users. This was different than e-mail, because all members of the bulletin board could read the messages, you had an audience, and there was a record of what had been said up to that point that was easily reviewable. One of the weirdest things I learned about when first getting into this was that the list of conversation messages was called “a thread.” It conjured an image of the Greek Fates, mythological goddesses who spun the thread of life through all creation. Really sounded quite splendid.

Threads became a new way of holding discourse. Back in the day, for me mostly, this was about the cool new science fiction shows that were coming out, or the latest novels, things happening in your college, or how to fix your computer. Useful, friendly topics that rarely started significant arguments.

mainOne thing you have to understand here is that you 1) had to be personally identified and allowed on most bulletin board systems, and 2) the owner of the system could disallow your access if you weren’t behaving. This was coupled with the fact that computers were expensive, most people who had them were fairly well educated and working in technology, and for the most part were well-behaved. The early Internet was pretty good at policing itself, and people knew that their reputations were worth something in the long run so they protected them.  Of course there were exceptions, this was where the term “internet troll” or “trolling” originated, as well as the occasional “flame war“,  but calm discourse was pretty much the norm.

When the Internet explosion became a thing back in the 90’s (go read about Eternal September for more background) all this changed, and not necessarily for the better.  Public conversations rarely take place these days without some element of name calling or button pushing at least. There’s also a subtext of “winning” the conversation, and for a few disturbed individuals taking on the if you can’t win it disrupt it so that the neither side can continue a thoughtful discussion. Lately, things have really gotten out of hand with threats of violence, revealing of personal information, and other overreactions to a message, post, or review. It is beyond disturbing.

kevin-smith-flameAnd yeah, I’ve risen to the bait in my own share of conversations, typically throwing the 2nd stone but realizing towards the end that there was a big pile of stones there that was so easy to amass. I can’t say that I’ve ever felt real satisfaction from such incursions. No opinions were likely changed, no votes cast in the opposite direction no matter how well-crafted my argument or sly my innuendo. It wasn’t even a good way to blow off steam, as the process of creating the steam left more heat in it’s place.

OK, officially dialing-down the metaphors.

So what’s the point? I guess the point is that I’m consciously not taking part in this any more. There’s no bigger waste of time on the internet than expecting that your heated point will sway the opinion of someone similarly heated. And to your audience you likely look like you’ve lost perspective in the long run.

Acknowledging this, we still have to deal with the desire and drive “to win.” Yeah, that’s tougher, because there’s really no way to score this stuff fairly.  Sure, one side can call all their buddies in to bolster the “likes” on their argument, but that really proves nothing in the end. Winning is ambiguous, both sides will claim it even when both fail to compose rational and measured points. There are no judges, no awards, no final score. You have to be able to walk away, and that takes more courage than staying and “fighting.”

And I’m really tired of the whole thing, so I’ve taken on four guidelines for myself in crafting an argument.

  1. The argument must be about the thing, not the people in the discussion.
    There is nothing to be gained by simply saying the other side has no right to their opinion due to mental ability/background/religion/party/etc. An argument is only positive when actual factors of the conflict are being discussed.
  2. Try to be a “one and out” commenter.
    This is harder, but it’s important. Craft the whole of your comment clearly and succinctly.  The shorter the more likely it will be read. Again, removing attack words will shorten your prose. Ignore personal attacks, those take up more time than they are worth.
  3. When you aren’t able to do the “one and out” at least wait for more voices between you and the opposing opinion.
    Again, it’s better if your original post stands on it’s own, but occasionally there is room for clarification. That clarification should typically be shorter than your original post.
  4. Realize when the discussion has gone toxic and walk away.
    That’s it, just walk.Find the “unfollow” button and use it. Don’t look back.

And if you’re in search of solace as you step back, remember…

Living well is the best revenge. – George Herbert

There’s an additional secret here, but I’m saving that for a follow-up post.

So that’s it. Simple. Not easy, but simple.

As always I hope my own example serves you well, and I’m interested in your comments.

calm_waterI have to admit, I’m as guilty as anyone.

The world seems to be a place of gratuitous anger these days. Thoughtlessly overreacting to imagined or real slights, the road rage of the information superhighway threatens to destroy all reasonable or at least sensible conversation.

The promise of open discourse between people who, up until a couple of decades ago, might never have spoken at all is in dire jeopardy. Those strangers meet expecting a fight, preparing for one, and even the slightest misstep on the part of the other can launch into a verbal jihad for which a simple “I’m sorry” can hold no healing.

And it’s really kind of silly. We know nothing of the “enemies” we make via Twitter feed or news commentary. We either attack or defend against “idiots” and “morons” who are possibly more educated on facts and figures than us, but they had the audacity to contradict or disagree with our opinions.

There are times when I really start to give up hope for humanity. I think that perhaps an armageddon from space or germ disaster on our little green marble wouldn’t really cost the universe much in the long run. There are so many people out there being selfish, self-absorbed, and just rude to their neighbors that maybe we really don’t deserve this long-term blessing of the lovely planet in the miracle of this universe. We simply aren’t, as a whole, living up to the promise of what we could be.

Of course, thats from the darker times. Other times I’m incredibly impressed by the works of people who could otherwise ignore everything that’s going wrong in the world, but don’t. Bill Gates for one. He’s probably the most vilified billionaire on the planet. People blame him for everything from Windows Vista to the virus they got from browsing (ahem) videos on the internet. But upon retiring he got to work looking at the world’s broader problems, fixable stuff, and then he started fixing it.

Personally, I’ve started being annoyed with myself. My skin is too thin, my anger too quick to rise. I felt the need to dial it down a bit. To put some perspective in my own life, which is really pretty good. This does not mean I will forgive Amazon for problems with a shipment that they’ve failed to get to me on time, nor will I turn the other cheek when a company changes a price or terms at the last minute. I will not become complacent or a willing victim. But I will endeavor to not turn to anger over such things.

And in this blog, this journal of such attempts to remove unthinking anger from my life, perhaps I will learn more about the goal and share it with others.

Because I suspect we all should dial it down a bit.

-Ric Bretschneider
Nov 8, 2014 3:13 PM PST