My Imagined Me

I’m thinking of taking up smoking, and here’s why.

I was born an introvert, too terrified to answer a phone or talk to a stranger. Interactions with unfamiliar human beings required rehearsed lines and zero eye contact. I was content to spend my evenings reading in my room, and would be struck numb with fear whenever I was tasked with returning library books or buying bread. I could visualize the conversations I wanted to have, or the way I wanted to behave, but I could never bring myself to talk or act the way I imagined I could. Gradually, I began to recognize a separation in the way I was and the way I perceived myself:

There was the Real Me – the introvert, too afraid to remain in the company of others for more than a few moments at a time. The one who was unable to sustain a conversation. The one who smiled at everyone in an attempt to avoid conflict. The one who never knew what to say or what to do with his hands.

Then, there was the Imagined Me – the extrovert, the socially confident one, the funny one. The one who moved gracefully and always looked you dead in the eye while saying exactly the right thing. The one who was unafraid to start a conversation, unafraid to linger, unafraid to put his hand on the shoulder of someone he’d just met. My Imagined Me was always better looking than me, better dressed, and more adored. He carried himself better, and had a magnetism that I wanted but was too afraid to grasp. Whenever I went out, I could always see him clearly, on the other side of the room, laughing with a group he’d just met, or flirting successfully with a gorgeous woman. A curious detail about my Imagined Me is that he is always holding a cigarette. He holds it down at waist level, or away from the people he’s talking to, but sometimes when he speaks he moves his hands, drawing pictures in smoke. Somehow, he makes it look cool.

Constantine
And not in the angry, aggressive way that John Constantine makes smoking look cool.

The frustrating thing was how perfectly attainable it was to become my Imagined Me. I did know what to say, and I could imagine how to conduct myself. My Imagined Me was right there, always a few seconds in the future, showing me what to do. All I had to do was to make the choice to become that person that existed so clearly in my mind, but I would always veer away from that choice at the last possible moment. I chose silence over charm, awkwardness over presence. I knew that I could never be as cool and natural as my Imagined Me, but at the very least I could pretend to be him.
I was seventeen years old when I first heard the phrase “Fake it ’til you make it” spoken in earnest. It was said to me by a shy singer who had enchanted an entire ballroom filled with elderly holiday makers.
“Fake it ’til you make it,” she said, “and eventually you’ll learn that you’re not faking it anymore.”

I took drama in high school, and that went some way to showing me how to fake certain behaviours, but only up to a point. I was still terrified of people, and would avoid interactions when I could.
After high school I worked as a waiter, and that forced me to interact with adults. I hated every moment in which I had to meet a new guest, but with every interaction I became slightly better at faking confidence, and got closer to becoming my Imagined Me.

In university, I was still afraid, but in that new and exciting environment I put renewed energy into impersonating someone that wasn’t me. By then the idea of my Imagined Me was clearer and better defined, and I made a concerted effort to inhabit that person. I took dancing classes, and that gave me a certain control over my body that I hadn’t had before. I performed in a play, and modelled in the art department. I pushed myself to be in the public eye as much as possible, to teach myself to get comfortable in it. This gave me a certain type of confidence, but it was unbridled and lacked finesse. My charisma was explosive. It would start strong and then fizzle quickly. I became comfortable in groups but cowered in one-on-one conversations.
In my mind’s eye I could see my Imagined Me doing the things I was trying to do, but better, and always with a cigarette in his hand. At times I could engage people in conversation – total strangers even – but my enthusiasm and interest would evaporate after a minute or two, and I’d make an excuse to leave. As cool as I looked from the outside, I was still nothing like the charismatic version of myself I could envision. He had his cigarette; I just bit my nails.

Tony Stark
Pictured: Me introducing myself at a house party.

After university I went and taught English in Thailand. That helped me get over a lot of anxiety, and for long stretches I forgot that I was faking anything at all. But still, in the wings, I could always spy my Imagined Me, better looking and with better hair, and smoking.

In Chile I have been teaching adults, and that has been quite the challenge. I’ve spent my life fighting the notion that I am a grown up, and now my job involves having one-on-one conversations with other grown ups as if I am one of them. These sessions can be up to two hours long, and I spend every moment of them fearing that they can see that I’m not a grown up at all. I’m a terrified child, with hands that shake and nails that have been bitten to the quick. But I figure that as long as I pretend to be my Imagined Me, they’ll never notice.
I now feel closer to being my Imagined Me than ever before. He is right in front of me, so close I can touch him. I have learned his habits, and his turns of phrase, and I’ve learned to impersonate him for long periods at a time. But when I socialise I still see him there, cigarette in hand, and I think to myself, “Maybe I should take up smoking.”

Gatsby
Even though I compete with him, my Imagined Me always wants the best for me.
Advertisements

Begin Again

Photo credit: Eileen Smith

When I was quite young and unwise in the way of propriety I would often play a computer game called Soldier of Fortune. It was grimly violent, and not at all suitable for someone my age. It was an unimaginative shoot-’em-up kind of game in which I would start off with a small yet powerful pistol, and as I progressed through the levels my armory would get bigger and more explosive.
My favourite part of this game was always the beginning. I especially liked the pistol because of its precision. It would allow me to shoot enemies in the head and legs and arms, and the programming was just sophisticated enough to make these enemies wail in pain and clutch at whatever part of their body they had been shot in. The reason I loved the pistol so much wasn’t because it afforded me the pleasure of torture. Rather, it was because with the pistol I felt as if I really earned my victories. Throwing a grenade into a roomful of enemies wasn’t nearly as rewarding because it required so little effort and stealth on my part. Every time the game progressed to the point where the enemies became too tough to be affected by my pistol I would start to lose interest. Before long I would reset and start the game from the beginning.

Soldier of Fortune
Four against one? Looks like things are about to get… boring.

This habit of starting again when things get too tough or too boring is a habit that has followed me around all my life. When things get too difficult or too complicated, I tend to abandon what I’m doing completely. I think this might have something to do with my family’s habit of moving around a lot when I was a child. I have a firm memory of watching a made-for-TV movie when I was perhaps six years old, in which an older lady in a small town in the United States proudly declared to the local sheriff, “I’ve lived in this house all my life!”
“I want that!” I thought to myself. I wanted to become an old man and to be able to say proudly, “I’ve lived in this house all my life!”
My very next memory is of my Father telling me that we were moving to Botswana. My first thought at the time was sadness that my one-house streak was going to be broken so soon into my short life.

Carl
Carl. I basically wanted to be Carl.

We moved several times after that, and I guess I grew accustomed to the idea that everything was temporary: Schools, houses, friendships. I never saw much point in painting my room, or hanging up pictures. At the back of my mind I knew that stationary moments were temporary, and I stopped seeing the point in long-term investments. Drilling holes into walls to put up shelves made me uncomfortable.
When I lived in Thailand, I spent about a year in an apartment that had a perfect spot on the wall for a clock. When I woke up every morning my eyes would dart to that blank space in a quest to discover the time, and each time I sought it out I was reminded that I still had not bought a clock to put there. In the end, I never did buy a clock.
Even now, my walls are devoid of photos and decorations. What’s the point of putting up pictures if I’m just going to have to take them down again some day?

On the plus side, the constant compulsion to change my perspective has pushed me to have a wide variety of experiences and constantly try new things. But overall, I can’t pretend that this is a good trait. Simply put, I am profoundly commitment phobic. I feel like a stem cell that refuses to differentiate. Or an ant that refuses to be classified as soldier or worker. I was born with the potential to be anything, yet I fear that once I specialize there will be an infinite number of lifetimes I won’t get to experience.

The implications of this phobia are vast. I shall always be a jack of all trades and a master of none. My life is doomed to be plagued with unfinished projects and houses with barren walls. I’ll never find out what might have happened if I’d just gone the extra mile, or just stuck at something a little while longer. More recently in my life I’ve had to come to terms with fact that I don’t date.
This might be the saddest detail of my condition. After all, I am almost always in love with someone, but I have learned that the safest thing for me to do is nothing. If I pursue romance, it might blossom briefly, but I know that it will be cursed to wither and die. I have learned in some very painful ways that once I begin to feel overwhelmed by intimacy I immediately start wanting out, and the result is that other people get hurt. So I am single by choice. It’s certainly not the wisest choice, and it often leaves me clutching at my heart and wailing in pain like those characters in the computer game I used to play, but that’s far better than the alternative of hurting people farther down the line. I sincerely hope someone changes my mind one day, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Bless You

I try to see goodness in everything, but I cannot learn to love a sneeze.
“But it feels so good!” some people protest.
“It’s one eighth of an orgasm!” say others.
Well, to those who leap to the defense of sneezes, I say: You are wrong. There is nothing redeeming about a sneeze.

The most obvious thing to despise is the sound. Goodness gracious, but what a disturbance! What a disruption! Imagine, if you will, that you are in a peaceful setting. A restaurant perhaps, or a cinema. Suddenly, out of nowhere, someone in the room decides to loudly and carelessly scream out the harshest curse word they know. How offended would you be? I know I’d be taken aback. Not only is it disturbing and obnoxious, but it also means you need to ask the person to whom you were speaking to repeat themselves because you were too distracted by the person shouting out the F-word at the back of the bus.

Mr Bean Sneeze
Blasphemy! – “Gesundheit”

The harshness of the sound aside, it is also an impediment. In school we are taught that in the moment in which a sneeze takes place, our entire body stops functioning. That alone is frustrating enough, but it also means you have to cease what you are doing so that the sneeze can produce itself. Conversations have to be halted, Netflix has to be paused, and the food that you are cooking needs to burn as you step aside to allow your face to explode.
It’s difficult to recover immediately. Normally one needs a moment to allow one’s senses to re-calibrate after our brains have been blown around. If you’re like me then you’ll also need an additional moment of apologetic self-loathing before you can carry on with your life.

I, for one, do not like the way the world smells after I have sneezed. To me, everything smells like the inside of a vacuum cleaner. Everything is dusty and musty and unpleasant, and it takes a good few minutes before I stop noticing it.

Then, of course, there is the physical fallout from having sneezed. Quite often a tissue needs to be sought, a nose needs to be blown, and then hands need to be washed. A sneeze sets me back at least a minute of my life, and I find that infuriating. I feel as if my nose is a spoiled pop star, and I am its mistreated butler, having to stop what I am doing in order to attend to its whim at any given moment. I am also one of those people who sneezes whenever I step into sunlight. This makes leaving my apartment in the day time a nuisance. I feel sorry for my friends who have to walk out into the world with me, and I am grateful that they are not as upset by sneezing as I am. If I had to date me, I wouldn’t.

Pollen
There is a sinister side to spring

I cannot remember when I first developed this deep-seated hatred for sneezes, but I’m fairly certain that my loathing has grown as the years have gone by. Perhaps my hatred has become reinforced by my friends showing sympathy every time they or I sneeze. But I do know that my contempt for sneezing is not a put on. Even in the solitude of my apartment I curse loudly every time my nose attacks me.

One result of moving to another country every few years is that I cross paths with more people than I normally would have if I had remained in one place. As time passes, these people move around as well, and gradually I have built up a network of friends that spans the globe. I truly love the people I have met, and I am sorry that I’ve brought the curse of sneeze-bigotry into their lives. You see, Dear Reader, I do understand that sneezing is a natural process, and no one should ever have to atone for it. But in that second and a half that follows a sneeze I go into a red rage. My fists clench and I become overwhelmingly angry, and then the moment passes and I am friendly again. But my friends have recognized my fury and they have taken to apologizing to me whenever they sneeze. Often they will hurry out of the room so that I don’t hear them. I have come to realize that when people sneeze in my vicinity they immediately look to me to see if I noticed. My friends have often admitted to me that my bias has made them so self-aware when they sneeze that they will apologize even if I am not in the same country as them.
While I am flattered that I have friends who are so concerned about my happiness that they have taken to modifying their behaviour around me, it makes me sad that my hatred has become contagious. Now, all around the globe, people are apologizing after sneezing, feeling guilty that somewhere in the world, someone hates them for what they have done.
Add this to the ever increasing list of reasons to hate sneezes.

Pollen Riots
Pictured: The infamous Pollen Riots

How to Halloween

October is nearly at an end, and if you haven’t decided what you’re dressing up as for Halloween yet, then you need to take a good long look in the mirror and ask yourself what you’ve been wasting your time on all year. Ideally, a Halloween costume should be decided by April. End of July, tops. Otherwise, there won’t be enough time to physically prepare for the night. What if you decide on a costume that requires you to lose weight? Or gain weight? Or grow your hair out? Or grow a beard? Halloween is the Christmas of dress up parties, and if you go into it half-hearted, you’re only letting yourself down.
And Halloween.
And me. You’re also letting me down.
Now, I know that this article comes six months too late, but for those of you are struggling to decided what to wear for Halloween, I have a simple list of rules to keep in mind when choosing the ideal Halloween costume:

Pennywise
Interestingly, Pennywise conforms to several of the rules this year.

 

1.) The Costume Comes First
Sometimes the cost of looking impressive is that you are debilitatingly uncomfortable. Maybe you have to endure sub-zero temperatures, or the inability to sit down all night. Maybe your costume prevents you from eating or drinking for hours on end, or it forces you to pick up smoking as a habit. But regardless of the discomfort and the permanent physical damage a costume can do to your body, it is important to remember that the costume comes first. The moment you decide to sacrifice spectacle for comfort, then everything falls apart. Take off your shoes and you are no longer Jessica Rabbit. Now you are just a sad figure in a red dress. Take the tree branches out of your robe so you can sit down, and suddenly you are no longer a mighty Tree Ent. Now you are just a sad figure holding a stick.

Leeloo
Sure, tape will rip your skin off at the end of the night, but you need it to complete the look.

 

2.) Wear Bright Colours
Halloween night is the best time to stand out. Many people opt to dress in costumes related to horror. This means ghosts, corpses, and zombies. The convenient thing about this is that all of these looks employ the same colour scheme – black, white, and a few splashes of red. Against this grayscale background, any shot of colour will stand out marvelously, and so a colourful costume will guarantee that all eyes are on you. Red is an obvious first choice, and a personal favourite of mine, but any bright colour will work if you use it in large enough amounts.

Iron Man Light
If you feel you aren’t bright enough, just attach a light to your chest.

3a.) Dress as Something from Popular Culture
It’s not enough to paint yourself red and go out on the town. Once you’ve appealed to the eye of the viewer, you now need to appeal to their intellect. That’s why you should dress up as something that everyone will recognize. It is human nature to fear or ignore things we don’t understand, so if you go out dressed as your friend Gareth then no one will pay you a second glance. But if someone looks at you and instantly understands who you are, then they will feel an automatic kinship towards you.

Deadpool
Turns out you’ve got to be 16 or older to know who Deadpool is.

 

3b.) Topical Popular Culture
Popular culture is always being changed and redefined. What is popular today could easily be forgotten tomorrow, and if you’re not relevant, then people stop caring. Sure, everyone can identify what Willy Wonka looks like, but he is no longer at the forefront of the cultural hive mind, and therefore won’t attract too much attention these days. So pick your popular culture carefully. Choose a costume that everyone is talking about, and can be identified instantly. Requiring people to delve into the annals of their popular culture memory is a lot to ask, and in the end they just won’t bother with you.

Mad Hatter
The Mad Hatter was cool back in the day. Not so much anymore.

 

4.) Be as Naked as Possible
The problem with dressing up as something topical from popular culture is that you run the risk of sharing a costume with several other people, and this is exactly what we’re trying to avoid. Halloween is about standing out and being noticed, and if everyone is dressed as the Joker you suddenly become forgettable. In order to be memorable, you need to make sure that your costume outshines the rest, and there’s no better way to cement yourself into people’s memory than by being naked.
Being naked has twin benefits: Not only does flesh catch the eye, but when you are unburdened by clothing and props, you can move about unhindered and dance with abandon. There’s no better way to enjoy Halloween that to have freedom of movement and not have to worry about hitting other people with your giant Buzz Lightyear wings.

Naked
Pictured: Average Sunday

With Halloween only a few days away, this helpful list might not have arrived in time. But it’s important to remember that it’s never too early to start thinking about next year’s Halloween.

 

Admit the feet

Hands

Observe the hand: A quick glance can tell you so much about the person it is attached to: Age, type of profession, marital status, even the time, if it’s wearing a watch. We ball our hands up when we are angry and gnaw at our nails when we are nervous. A trembling hand can give away fear or low blood sugar. Whether it is a wave, a handshake, a wai, or a high-five, the hands are the tools we use to signal peace; to say, “I am unarmed.” If eyes are the window to the soul, then the hand is certainly its listing on AirBnB.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the foot.

Painted Nails
Pictured: My feet on holiday

A foot is a lot like a hand: The average one is an oblong appendage which tapers into five fleshy digits. Like the hand, it is useful in fighting and picking stuff up off the floor, and people are always impressed when you can put a whole one in your mouth.
Most importantly of all, the foot is a good indicator of the true nature of the person to whom it is attached. Granted, feet don’t tremble like hands do. We do not wear wedding rings on our toes or watches on our ankles, and in many cultures greeting someone with your foot is not a signal of peace at all. But I argue that the feet contain many secrets, and if you want to know the true nature of a person, cast your eyes downward.
An obsession with feet is a recognised fetish, and I’ve known more than a few people who have had severe foot phobias. There is a lot of cultural significance to the foot as well: In many Asian countries, it is customary to remove your shoes when entering a house. In South Africa, it is quite normal for children to walk to school barefoot. In Chile, asking a person to remove their shoes is comparable to asking them to remove their pants.

While I enjoy flaunting my feet, a foot is still an intimate part of a person’s body. It’s rare to see a stranger’s naked foot in public. Sure, they might be visible through sandals or flip flops, but most of the time they are hidden away inside shoes and socks, blocked from roving eyes. When it comes to foot beauty, only so much can be done. We can wax our toes, paint our nails, and scrub our heels, but at the end of the day the foot is the part of the body that does the dirty work. It’s the part that is always in contact with the ground, and the section of our body that has to put up with our weight. Our feet are the secretaries of the body. They put up with a lot, but they also know all of our secrets. If the hands are the AirBnB listing of the soul, then the feet are the reviews on the AirBnB listing of the soul. They are the person laid bare, and the first thing I look at when I’m trying to drum up empathy for a fellow human being.

Improv Feet
So many feet. What secrets do they hide?

 

The world is full of beautiful people, and beautiful women catch my eye a lot. I see legs, and cleavage, and hair, and lips, and I find these things pleasant to look at. So much so, in fact, that I sometimes forget that there’s a person joining all of those attributes together. In order to remind myself that I’m looking at a living soul, and not a set of sensuous specifics, I look at their feet. This is where the person’s secrets are revealed. Of course, I’m often not really looking at their feet, but rather at their shoes. But the shoes can be just as telling. For the most part, shoes don’t get cleaned very often, or replaced very regularly. Oftentimes they have scuff marks, or their glimmer has become dulled. When I see tarnished shoes I see a person who works hard, but who prioritizes other necessities above footwear. Sullied shoes show me a person just trying to get by. When people are nervous or shy, they sometimes stand with their feet turned inwards. When shoes wear out asymmetrically they indicate a defect in a person’s stride, and our defects are where our humanity shines forth. Suddenly I don’t see just legs and cleavage and hair and lips. Now I see a person in a chair, stooped over, pulling their foot into a shoe. I see fingers hooping laces around each other, or fastening the buckle on a wedge, or pulling the back of a pump over a heel. I can visualize that person in a bedroom that contains an unmade bed, dirty clothes, and a few scattered pairs of footwear. I see a room that contains clutter and vulnerability. This is the space in which the person is their purest – before they put on the face that they show to the world. And when that image reveals itself to me, so does their humanity.

Scott Pilgrim
When you see Scott Pilgrim tying his shoes, it kind of makes you like him more.

I think that we all leave our houses wanting to look our bravest and best. With our clothes and our grooming and our smiles and our language, we present a mask to the world. But our feet are the part of us that reveals what is behind the mask. A banner waving to the world, shouting, “This is the real me!”

All Children, Except One…

Where am I?

I am writing this blog post on a Wednesday – the day before I turn 30, and I will post it on a Friday – the day after I turn 30. Who knows when you might be reading this. Quite possibly, if you happen to read this blog post soon after it is published, I will be flying over the Andes mountains, painfully hungover and sleep deprived as a result of birthday celebrations from the night before. It is my intention to spend the weekend in Argentina, to get away from life as I know it, and pass into my thirties out of site of everyone.
Maybe I am 40 or 50, reading this blog and shaking my head at how young and naive I was. Wherever it is that I am, might be, or have been, the turn of a decade prompts me to look back over the past thirties years and assess.

Brad Pitt Inevitable
I can’t help but think that the full name of Brad Pitt’s fragrance is “Our Inevitable March Towards Death.”

I am not married, and I have no children of my own (that I know of). I have no tattoos, piercings, or property. Perhaps my most expensive possession is my refrigerator, which I plan on selling when I leave Chile. While I have been teaching English for about six years, I do not consider it a career path. I am not upwardly mobile in the world of English teaching. All in all, I’m pretty much in the same place I was when I left university.

But these are things that I do not regret. I have sacrificed the material for the spiritual, and during the course of my life I have learned a lot about myself. I have lived on four continents. I have learned to ride a scooter, to open a beer bottle with a lighter, and to speak Spanish. I have tried marijuana on several occasions and magic mushrooms on one. I have a university degree, for which I will be forever grateful to my Parents. I have grown my hair long enough to tie up (I’ll never do that again) and had my entire body painted (I will definitely do that again). I have been in relationships and learned that I do not like them. Over time I have discovered a fear of sneezes, loud noises, and commitment.

Long Hair
Still not sure if my long hair phase is a pro or a con.

I think, overall, I have been happy. That is to say, a life lived in constant optimism has occasionally been interrupted with deep valleys of sadness, which puts my overall level of happiness at about average.
Through all of this, I have picked up a few truths which seem to be universal. So here I dispense some of the wisdom which I have gained in my thirty years:

1.) No matter how old and wise you think you are, you will always look back on yourself as you are right now and marvel at how naive you were (Exhibit A: This list. I’m sure one day I’ll want to rewrite it).
2.) If you can and you should, then you must.
3.) No matter how strong and tough a person might be, they will always remember the kind things you say to them. So speak good things, even if you think they’ll fall on deaf ears.
4.) The truth will out, so don’t brag. Trust that others will do your bragging for you. I promise you they will. Similarly, don’t be an ass. People will find out.
5.) Don’t value celebrities higher than you value yourself. You won’t impress Saint Peter by telling him you once shook hands with Ryan Reynolds.
6.) Every horrible experience adds to your overall human experience. Take solace in that. If you can tell Saint Peter that you ran the full gamut of human experience, I suspect that he would be impressed.
7.) You can never say “I love you” enough. After someone is gone, you’ll always wish you had said it more often.
8.) Don’t stick your tongue out while yawning. It will mess up your head.
9.) Anger is a symptom of powerlessness, so always speak calmly. More often than not, people will take your side in an argument if you control your emotions.
10.) Don’t let your life be a show on the verge of getting cancelled. If a live studio audience were watching your life, would they be entertained?
11.) Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for someone is to let them be kind to you. If a poor person insists on buying you a meal, let them.
12.) Attraction is complicated. There are things like physical attraction, sexual attraction, spiritual attraction, and intellectual attraction. You might not find all of these in one person, or in only one gender.
13.) When a friend is mad at you for something you did wrong, apologize and admit your wrongdoing, but don’t tell them how bad you feel. Saying “I feel awful about this” is a way of asking for their sympathy and blocking the anger they need to feel.
14.) Bear in mind that for everything you think you believe, the opposite might be true. It might be brave to go to war. It might be brave to defy authority.
15.) If you develop a favourite movie, or song, or food, you will continue to believe it long after it has stopped being true.
16.) Labels are important, but should be discouraged. It’s nice to know that a chair is a chair, but if we label someone as gay, or Muslim, or disabled, we hinder that person from being anything else.

 

All children, except one, grow up” – J.M. Barrie
For as long as I can remember, I have always envied Peter Pan’s eternal youth. It frustrated me that he was the only exception to old age, and a part of me has always hoped that science would have found a way to halt the process of aging long before I reached adulthood. So far, this has not been the case. People tell me that thirty is a wonderful age, and I hope they’re right. Nothing is going to stop me from enjoying my life as much as I can, but as I move further and further away from that eternal child that I always wanted to be, I’ll always be left wondering if he would be happy to see what I have become.

Peter Pan and Wendy

How to raise a child

It amazes me how much children need to be taught. They can cry and flail when they are uncomfortable, but beyond that they need to be shown everything. Everything. They need to be told to close their mouths when they chew, to wash when they are dirty, to walk around puddles and not through them, and to clean up after themselves. They need to learn to step aside for other people, to look ahead when they run, and to moderate their volume. Where do you even start to explain all of those things? It seems like far too much effort.
That said, I do sometimes understand the desire to have a child of my own. When I see children screaming on the metro, or talking far louder than is necessary, or running around in crowded spaces without paying attention to their surroundings, I always think to myself, “I could raise a better child.” I often fantasize that I will one day have a child of my own – a boy, let’s say – and I will call him Erfurt. If I have a girl, I will call her Erfurt too.
Erfurt will have empathy. That’s the most important thing. Erfurt will also have spacial awareness. When walking down the street, Erfurt will know not to take up too much space on the sidewalk. When we’re in the shops, Erfurt will be mindful of the people around him. He won’t run around too much, he won’t stumble into shelves, he won’t scream. He’ll learn to respect other people, to be humble, and he’ll learn wit. He will learn about bigotry and discrimination only when he’s old enough to understand that those are bad things.
Now, considering I have spent most of my life avoiding children, and that I don’t know the first thing about how to raise children, you might think that all of this is easier said than done. However, I have devised a fool-proof method that will ensure that my child grows up to be a good person. So, Dear Reader, I present to you my essential list of things to expose your child to in order to turn them into perfect adults:

If – Rudyard Kipling

If
“…And so hold on when there is nothing in you except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’”


On the first night that I bring Erfurt home from the hospital (or foster home. Who knows?) I will lay him in his cot, pull a piece of paper from my pocket, and read out Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” in its entirety. I will continue to do this every night until the rhythm of the words has worked its way deep into Erfurt’s mind. And as he develops speech I will teach him to recite the poem himself until he knows it by heart. I’ll explain that the poem is a little bit dated, so when Kipling says “pitch-and-toss” he really means any endevour where the outcome is uncertain, and when he says “be a man,” what he really means is “be a good person.”
It will be the mantra he recites to himself in times of conflict, and with those verses he will grow up to be a well-rounded, mentally strong human being.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go! – Dr Seuss

Oh the Places
“Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you”


By the time Erfurt is about ten years old, I expect that he will already have garnered a natural curiosity about the world. I will nurture this curiosity by reading him “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” at least once a week. This poem will give him the confidence to be independent and brave, the humility to accept loss, and the patience to withstand moments of stasis. Hopefully, as Erfurt starts reaching adulthood, this poem will develop in him a fiery curiosity about the world. It will encourage him to reach beyond his comfort zone and try to surpass his own expectations.

The Breakfast Club – John Hughes

Breakfast Club
“Do you think I’d speak for you? I don’t even know your language.”


Teenagers are a different race of human beings entirely, and I suspect that in his adolescence Erfurt might start feeling restless and anxious and unsure of his place in the world, despite what Mr Kipling and Dr Seuss might have already taught him. Therefore, as Erfurt enters puberty, I will see to it that he watches John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club” at least once a month. I’ll want him to know that the way he is feeling is okay, and that he doesn’t have to make his home inside the box that adults put him in. I’ll want him to discover that if he feels lost, it doesn’t mean that he’s wrong. Hopefully The Breakfast Club will teach him that if I have difficulty understanding him, then that is my own shortcoming and not through any fault of his own. And hopefully when he goes off to forge his own life in adulthood, he won’t forget about me (Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!…)

 

And, always in the background…
Everybody’s Free (The Sunscreen Song) – Baz Luhrmann

Sunscreen
“Do one thing every day that scares you”

“Everybody’s Free”, also known as the “Sunscreen Song,” is often attributed to Baz Luhrmann but was actually written by columnist Mary Schmich. Nevertheless, Baz is the one who set it to music and made it the cult hit it is today. Now it is the message read out to graduating students as they begin their journey into adulthood. But I’ll see to it that little Erfurt understands the message of the Sunscreen Song while he’s still young enough to appreciate his youth. I want Erfurt to be a child who loves himself for who he is, has patience with those who offer advice, and who makes an effort to know his parents.

 

If children were dogs, I’d definitely know what to do with them. But as far as human puppies go, I’m kind of at a loss. At the very least, I hope that this list of popular influences will be enough to turn baby Erfurt into a fully grown adult that I can be proud of.