Brian Dispenses Unsolicited Wisdom on the Occasion of His 31st Birthday

  • Wear sunscreen. Not because of that weird-ass advice speech thing. It’s just a smart idea. Like seat belts.
  • Rules for English are like rules for politeness. There’s no black-and-white absolute standard, no definite right and wrong. If it works, it works, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. However, if you show up to your sister’s wedding shirtless in the jeans you wear to mow the lawn, there may be consequences.
  • If you get a mosquito bite, heat up a metal spoon (not quite hot enough that you burn yourself) and place it on the bump for 5 to 10 seconds. It takes the itch away.
  • Don’t be a dick.
  • If you’re going to give to charity, regardless of amount, set up a recurring monthly donation rather than giving in sporadic chunks. For most charities, a dependable $10/month is much more valuable than a possible $120 sometime during the year – at Christmas, or when there’s some disaster – because the former is something they can count on and budget for.
  • Likewise, when you’re picking a charity, looking for the highest percentage spent “directly” on goods/services (versus percentage spent on administrative “overhead”) is worse than useless. Administration, management, bookkeeping, accounting, planning, and advertising are all crucial to making a nonprofit work. That’s why businesses do it. Don’t look for a percentage breakdown – measure results.
  • Don’t write prologues. If it’s important enough to put in the main story, put it in the main story. If not, cut it.
  • In my experience, people say false things because of ignorance or confusion far more often than because of dishonesty. I trust people a lot, but I trust their information very little.
  • Buckley’s Law: Nothing is simple. Buckley’s Corollary: If you think something is simple, that means you don’t understand it.
  • Likewise, beware of false dichotomies. People talk about whether Islam is “a religion of peace” as if yes or no are the only two options. Islam is the religion of more than a billion people worldwide and can’t be summed up neatly in a phrase or even a paragraph. It’s like asking if Christianity is a religion of peace. The problem is more with the question than with the answer.
  • Almost everyone likes poetry. Almost no one knows it.
  • An article that begins “Studies show…” is like a Diaper Genie. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but it’s probably full of crap.
  • Don’t idolize people. Don’t demonize people. It only leads to contradiction. Let’s say you love Ronald Reagan, but hate Democrats, union leaders, the EPA, and people who are “soft” on waterboarding. What happens when you find out that Ronald Reagan was a Democrat for 30 years, a union leader, called for more EPA funding, and opposed techniques such as waterboarding? (Not picking on conservatives here – it goes both ways.) People are people. Ideas are ideas. We can do without the halos and the devil-horns.
  • Do not, I repeat, do not fill up your lawnmower with the maximum amount of oil it can hold. I, uh, heard from a friend (ahem) that this can make thick smoke come out of the mower and pretty much eff it up for the rest of its short life.
  • Men are from Earth and women are from Earth. Psychologically, men and women are far more alike than different. And the differences that do exist are caused far more by people insisting over and over that we’re so different and need different roles and special guides to talk to each other. Asking “What do women want?” is pretty damn similar to asking “What do people want?”
  • When choosing words, beware of denotation vs. connotation. If you describe a black person as “niggardly,” the denotation is that they’re tight with money. The connotation is that you’re a dumbass.
  • If someone’s never read a sci fi book and you want to get them hooked, give them Ender’s Game.
  • If you’re a white author writing a black character, or an agnostic author writing a Jewish character, or any X author writing any Y character, here’s the best advice I’ve ever gotten on how to do it right: Don’t assume that being Y is the most important thing about this character. If Bill is a Buddhist, you don’t need to write him as Bill the Buddhist. You can write him as Bill, who collects comic books, is a semi-practicing Buddhist, is allergic to chocolate, and has somehow become convinced he has Tourette syndrome.
  • If someone’s bothering you, talk to them with an open mind, maybe even more than once. It’s amazing how often this works. “Katie’s such a bitch – she plays her music so loud, nobody can get any work done.” “Did you ask her to turn it down?” “Well, no, but…”
  • Anytime someone asks you a question you don’t have a good answer to (e.g., “Where is the…?”), you can always say, “I give up, where?” Or “Why did you…?” “I give up, why?” This isn’t necessarily a good answer, but it always fits.
  • Super Mario RPG is a really sweet game. Babylon 5 is a really sweet show. Safety Not Guaranteed is a really sweet movie. “The Last Question” is a really sweet story. Just sayin’.
  • “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” “I don’t want to sound racist, but…” “I don’t like to brag, but…” Then don’t.
  • Your opinion of anything – a song, a city, a person – is likely to be very different after the first encounter versus the 50th. If you hear a song once and don’t like it, that’s fine, but you don’t necessarily dislike the song, you just dislike your first hearing of it.
  • Having a birthday doesn’t actually make you any wiser. Be careful taking advice from people on the Internet – they’re frequently wrong. Have a nice day!

4 responses to “Brian Dispenses Unsolicited Wisdom on the Occasion of His 31st Birthday

  1. The advice with the spoon and mosquito bites…is also good for bee and wasp stings…but not for spider or scorpion bites or stings. But how do you know when the spoon is “Not too hot”?

  2. Flossing. Very important. Recent reports say otherwise (studies show…), but I’m still flossing.

    “Don’t assume that being Y is the most important thing about this character.”

    Very good approach. I wrote a story recently about a trans character. I’m not trans, but I wrote him as a guy. If you’re not a particularly careful reader, you might even miss the fact that he’s trans.

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