Thursday, January 31, 2013

It Gets Better

I read something online earlier today that inspired me to write this. This post is for one young man named Noah, to whom I just want to say one thing: Dude, it gets way better. Seriously.

I was bullied when I was in school. It was a small school, and I was the one everyone seemed to choose to pick on. A lot of kids from my own class and from grades ahead of me. Even some of the popular kids younger than me got in on the action. I never fought back, so I was a particularly easy target. It never got physical other than one time when I was de-pantsed in the locker room after PE and thrown outside in my underwear, yelling for the coach the entire time. But as I'm sure you know, the physical stuff is only a small part of it. I think maybe being punched in the face would have been easier. At least it would have been something visible that the teachers and principal couldn't ignore.

I don't know your situation, Noah. I don't know what reason the bullies are using to justify making your life miserable. I don't really care. Because it doesn't matter. I can tell you what it was in my case. I was a geek, unathletic, got straight A's, and liked learning just for the sake of learning. I was a bit of a late bloomer, as well. I liked reading more than sports.

But that's me. Your situation may be similar, or it may be entirely different. But here's the thing that I want you to understand.

Whatever. They're. Saying. Is. Wrong. Don't let them define who you are. Don't let them make you feel bad about enjoying or not enjoying something. Don't let them convince you that you deserve how they're treating you. Don't let them take away who you are because they demand that you be something else.

And please, don't let them convince you that the world would be better off without you in it. Because it won't.

I was constantly harassed: during homeroom, some classes, recess, lunch, and especially PE. I was not invited to parties. Or if I was invited, it was obvious that it was because their parents had made them. I was called names. I once had a "kick me" sign taped to my back, and even one of the teachers found it so funny that she had to laugh.

I wasn't laughing. It was awful. I wanted the people who were doing this to me to suffer the way they were making me suffer.

Somehow, though, I made it through. I had a couple of friends and we hung out and did our own thing. I found things I liked to do and people to do them with. In my case that was art classes after school. Piano lessons. Writing. Reading. Dungeons and Dragons. When I was doing those things, I didn't have those other people around me. The people who were constantly calling me stupid names and making me feel less than worthless.

After a particularly bad few weeks where the constant harassment got really bad, my mother came into my room after she got home from work. She said she needed to talk to me. She sat down on the edge of my bed. I sat next to her, my head down, sure I had gotten in big trouble for something.

What she said to me was that she knew some of what was going on at school (teachers talk). But that I should rise above it. Not listen to the people telling me I was worthless because I didn't do or like the same things they did. To "march to the beat of a different drummer." To do my own thing and not worry about what other people said or thought.

I know now that my mother was hurting, too. She saw what was going on, and she felt the pain, too. But she didn't want to make it worse. I still remember that conversation. I still think about it, and I still try to follow that advice.

Your mom is hurting, too. She wants desperately to help. She would move Heaven and Earth to make everything better for you.

But you know what? It got better. Things got a little easier as time went on. Maybe because I managed to stop caring so much what those people thought. Maybe because some of the people who'd been picking on me actually grew up a little and realized that what they were doing was hurtful, and stopped. Not all of them, but a few. It helped. I went to the prom with a pretty girl. We danced. We had fun. We went to a party afterwards and didn't get home until 2 AM. I was in the school play. I wouldn't trade any of those memories.

And then something truly awesome and amazing happened: I graduated from high school. And do you know what that meant?

I didn't have to be around those people anymore! I could choose to hang out with who I wanted. To do the things I wanted to do. I went to college. I made a bunch of friends who liked me for who I was. And here's the crazy part: they liked me for exactly the same reasons those kids in middle school and high school had picked on me, teased me, and harassed me.

I have incredible friends, now. I'm still very close to a lot of people I was friends with in college. But you know what else? I don't even remember the names of most of those kids in school who picked on me. I look at my yearbooks, and I think, "Who are you? Why did I care so much what you thought of me?" I haven't seen those people in 30 years (I'm old). And it doesn't bother me in the least. Those people are less than nothing to me, now.

My friend, you have some amazing things in store for you. Sure, there's going to be some awful stuff, too. And chances are, a lot of it is going to hurt. I'm not going to lie to you and try to tell you it's all laughs. But that other stuff is going to make up for it. Big time.

It gets better. It really, really does.

Friday, January 18, 2013


"The universe is so fined-tuned for intelligent life that there's just no way all that could have 'just happened' randomly! There had to be a guiding force!"

Take a deck of 52 standard playing cards (remove the jokers and any ad cards), or, if you have them handy, you could use a standard deck of 78 tarot cards as well. If you want to be evil and possibly murder some random person.

I keed, I keed! You won't cause random murder with a tarot deck. Probably.

Shuffle them at least six times to ensure a more random order. (Seven if using the tarot deck.)

Cut the deck. Or don't. I don't really care.

Now, deal the cards out one at a time, face-up, on a table, floor, or other flat surface so that you can see all the cards.

When you're done, carefully examine the order of the cards that you've laid out, from left to right.

That particular sequence of cards that you laid out was so improbable that it was impossible, by all practical definitions of the word. It had roughly a 1 in 8.06582 x 1067 chance of occurring! (Or 1 in ~1.13243 x 10115 if you used the tarot deck.) If a machine that could sort and deal the entire deck of cards in one second were to start doing so at the moment of the big bang, it still would not have exhausted all the possible combinations of cards in the 52-card deck, much less the 78-card tarot deck. The universe is only a bit over 432 quadrillion seconds old. That's ~ 4.3233 x 1017 seconds. You'll notice that 17 is much smaller than both 67 and 115.

And yet, this extremely improable event occurred right before your eyes. You watched it unfold before you! How astounding! You've just witnessed something that has almost certainly never occurred before, and will almost certainly never occur again in the history of the universe.

Do you feel privileged? As though you've witnessed a miracle that requires a "guiding hand" from elsewhere so that it aligned just right?

Eh, probably not. I mean, it's just random card order, right?

People tend to ascribe higher "impossibility" to sequences of events that mean something to them. Like flipping a coin a hundred times and coming up with heads every single time. In reality, any sequence of a hundred flips of the coin is equally unlikely as a hundred heads, a hundred tails, or fifty of each, intermingled (HTHT . . .).

Admit it: if you did the shuffle-then-layout thing and the cards managed to be in order from ace to king by suit (spades, hearts, diamonds, then clubs), or in a similar order for the Tarot cards, with the minor arcana first by number and suit, followed by the major arcana, you'd be much more likely to get a cold chill up your spine. But those "special" arrangements are exactly as likely — or as unlikely — as any other one.

Or if you shredded a catalog into confetti, then tossed it all up into the air over a fan, and as the pieces drifted to the ground, it happened to form an image that looked like Jesus or the virgin Mary, suddenly, it's a miracle! Whereas, if it formed the equally unlikely picture of, say, Flo the cashier from those Progressive Insurance commercials or Pepe le Pew, the Loony Toons skunk, it would be kind of neat . . . but hardly miraculous. They only seem miraculous because the image formed means something to us.

If it actually formed the unmistakable image of anything, I'd be highly suspicious. That our brains see patterns where there aren't any is called "pareidolia," and it's a well-known explanation for such things as Jesus-tortillas or Virgin-Mary-grilled-cheese-sandwiches.1

This is why I tend to be scornful when I hear things like "the universe has to have had a creator because there's no way everything just happened to line up to allow our kind of life!" If you look into it a bit, you realize that there's more beauty to the universe without a guiding intelligence than with one, or at least that's how I see it.

  1. Frankly, the Virgin Mary grilled cheese (see the image at the top of this post) doesn't look like much of anything to me, but sometimes I can sort of see an image of Tracy Scoggins, if I look slightly to one side and squint. And it's dark enough. And someone tells me I'm supposed to see Mary/Tracy.