Got Mill?

If you are among the millions out there who noticed that I missed two weekly posts this month, and who missed those two weekly posts, I congratulate you on your powers of observation and your impeccable taste. If you are not among the millions, I can only commiserate with you. It must be hard to be lacking in both powers of observation and impeccable taste. What’s more, I feel sorry for you because you are not like me: I missed two weekly posts but you did not. But cheer up. You’re not alone. There are billions out there like you.

I searched for images of our not-so-lonely planet’s teeming billions, to show you that you are not alone. I also wanted to keep you happy. I’m not naïve, reader. I know you like my images, and some of you like them more than my text. Well, I must inform you that instead of finding moving or humorous images to keep you happy, I only found millions of typos to keep me happy.

Billions of typos

I was exaggerating, of course. I didn’t find millions of typos. I only found these few, and maybe ten or twenty more. But I’m sure there are many millions in print, on the internet and off it. Why, my own book had some eight or nine. Apart from being mortifying, they were ironic because my book’s back cover says something about my having been a proufreeder. (It will be the ultimate irony if their our sum tie pose hear. Unintentional ones, I mean.)

The most mortifying of my typos was an incorrect end-of-line break that could have been avoided had Word been smart enough to know I meant “biolog-ical,” not “biology-ical,” and had I been smart enough to know how to turn off that feature. But I was not smart enough. Don’t be shocked, reader. If you’ve been reading the posts I churn out for your reading pleasure week after week (barring a couple weeks here and there), you will know what grade I’m mentally in. Turning off features in Word is for Indian techies, those teeming millions in whose august company I will never feature, in August or in any other month.

Pioneer Boulevard Back Cover

Most of the typos I came across as a proofreader at Warner Bros. weren’t funny, but I remember these because they were.

  1. Fathering Forces. The copy had gathering, but given the licentious lifestyle of the heroes in the movie, fathering would have been right too.
  2. Until then, ______ was the longest loving member of the Senate. Obviously the copy had said living. Even if the writer knew something about the senator’s love life, they wouldn’t have told.
  3. Standing on the shoulder of Stanley Kubrick. If you have as good an imagination as Stanley Kubrick, you’ll be able to picture what it would be like to stand on his shoulder. Especially because he’s been dead since 1999.

Apostrophe Intelligence

And now, let me tell you about the not-so-teeming millions. These are a million dollars, which my wallet has yet to teem with. (Please don’t stop reading. I have something very important to say on this.)

Some days ago I was in conversation with a man who visits India regularly in connection with some community development projects he raises funds for. At one point he stopped mid-sentence to ask, “What would you do if you were given a million dollars?”

Someone asked me this question when I first came to the US, and at the time my hopes rose. The speaker was an elderly woman, and I thought she was about to bequeath her estate to me. I’d heard that anything was possible in America, and I felt it was about to happen to me. So convinced was I that I almost gave her the answers I thought might win her (“Save the manta rays” being at the top of the list, this being Hawaii). I soon discovered that she had no intention of bequeathing anything to me. When I finished speaking, she began telling me what she would do if given a million, and that’s when I discovered she had nothing to bequeath to anyone.

It took another five or six people to ask me that question before I figured out that when someone asks that, they are only trying to eavesdrop on your thoughts. Because (if you answer honestly), what you would do if you were given a million dollars shows where your greatest passions and interests lie.

Note: Change that to a billion when speaking to a millionaire. And if you’re speaking to a billionaire, don’t ask them what they would do. Ask them what they are doing.

Who wants to be a millionaire

When I first came to the US, I also heard about a study that had been done a decade or so before among the Builders (people who had lived through both world wars), in which they had been asked this question: “If you had to live your live over, what would you do differently?”

This is another of those “million dollar” questions of the kind I was asked recently. It’s different in the sense that you could be given a million dollars whereas you cannot get to live your life over, but the Builders have not been called the greatest generation for nothing. They gamely responded, and these are the top three answers:

  1. I would watch more sunsets.
  2. I would spend more time with those I love.
  3. I would invest in things that will outlive my lifetime.

When my conversation with the man who regularly visits India began, I hadn’t been expecting the “million dollar” question, and I wasn’t thinking about the Builders when I replied, but I knew what he was getting at and I named the top three items on my wishlist. I responded honestly, but I’m not revealing my answer. If you’ve been eavesdropping on my Collected Thoughts for any length of time, you’ll be able to figure it out for yourself. I will say this, though: I believe my three points cover the three points on the Builders’ list. The first two things I’d do if someone gave me a million dollars will be an investment into something that outlives my lifetime, and the third will allow me to watch more sunsets and spend more time with those I love.

So here’s the very important thing I have to say to you: If you have a mill bill to spare, please pass the buck to me.

Million dollar bill



In my last post, “Listless in Los Angeles” (August 1), I had listed five things we can do to not be listless. Since I like to walk my talk, I didn’t talk during my walk one day earlier this week. Or, to use the terminology I had used in “Listless,” I paused for a moment of stillness and silence while exercising. But such is the world’s resistance to walking the talk that the moment had barely begun when it ended with the sound of a man’s voice saying “My job has no value!”

It was said with such vehemence that my thoughts stopped in their tracks. I was walking in a garden and the man was on the outside. I edged to the hedge, parted the leaves, and dropped in on his conversation.

I was expecting a stocky, scruffy thirtysomething, but this guy was older, taller, and better dressed. For some reason his appearance generated in my mind the image of a nineteenth-century explorer staring across a thundering waterfall in the African interior. I hadn’t thought of David Livingstone in months, maybe years, but this man brought to mind that worthy pioneer – which, of course, brings to mind Hamlet.

Hamlet is the great eavesdropping play, except that people listen behind arrases, not from eaves. The word eavesdropper came into use almost four score years before Shakespeare’s birth, and the first recorded use of the verb is found in the 1606 comedy Sir Giles Goosecap (“We will be bold to evesdroppe”). The general consensus on the authorship of this anonymous play is that it was written by George Chapman, the chap also identified as the Rival Poet in Sonnets LXXVII–LXXXVI. Chapman’s Homer inspired Keats to pen a sonnet I love because of the imagery in the sestet:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Although I have never looked into Chapman’s Homer and felt like stout Cortez staring at the Pacific, I’m glad Bardolators didn’t change eavesdropping to arrasdropping because I’d have had to come up with a different title for this post. Arrantdropping might have worked as a pun, but I’m not arrant (though at times I’m a ranter).

The classic line on eavesdropping in Hamlet appears in the scene in which Hamlet talks to himself for the third time in as many acts. (Which, when you think about it, is not bad for the most talkative character in Shakespeare.) Hamlet is unaware that someone is listening to his soliloquy – from behind the arras, that is. The audience in front of him should be listening, but audiences can be perverse when it comes to listening to Hamlet’s soliloquies. So strongly do I feel about this that I call them “scullions” and “dull and muddy-mettled rascals” in my Hamlet story, “The Tiffany Lamp.”

It’s a good thing Hamlet is unaware of the eavesdroppers, or he might not have said all those great lines about mortal coils and bare bodkins. And he might have gone on talking to himself had Ophelia not entered to remind him of his sins. He tells her to get herself to a nunnery (where she will say many orisons, which is necessary because he is an arrant knave and his sins are many), and exits. Enter the eavesdroppers, the king and Polonius, who tells Ophelia, “You need not tell us what Lord Hamlet said; / We heard it all” (III, i, 182-83). In an ironic twist at the end of that act, Polonius is killed while eavesdropping behind the arras in the queen’s bedchamber.

Back to the world of the living. When I parted the leaves to eavesdrop, I saw that the man was following a golden lab and being followed by a golden-haired lass. I took them to be his dog and his daughter. I admit I could be wrong about the lass, but the dogged way the man was following the lab could only mean that he was its master.

“I wanted to be an engineer,” the man continued. “I wanted to build things, you know? To be part of something bigger.”

Something bigger? I’d said something similar myself, and that very morning! I had to hear more. I sidled along the hedge, dropping leaves as I eavesdropped.

“Instead, I get paid a lot to do nothing.”

That’s better than getting paid nothing to do a lot, I thought.

The golden-haired lass mumbled something, which I’m still kicking myself for not catching because it made him laugh. But I doubt what she said was terribly funny, because the laugh was short and bitter. More like the yelp of pain the golden lab might make if someone stepped on its leg.

The lass pulled out her phone. The man was still ahead and didn’t notice. Moments later he amended his statement: “I get paid a lot to do nothing of value.

Getting paid a lot to do nothing of value is worse than getting paid nothing to do a lot of value. Work that is of value is its own reward. Ask any volunteer – including members of the Shakespeare by the Sea troupe who acted in Hamlet this season. But that’s not what I was thinking when I heard the amendment. Instead, my train of thought went something like this:

Surely he isn’t leading a life of crime . . . What he does must have some value to someone . . . His clients (if he has any) must value his services . . . His wife (if he has one) must value his paycheck . . .

Instead of satisfying my curiosity about his occupation and what others think of it, the man merely repeated himself: “I want to be part of something bigger.”

His voice had less bitterness and more yearning this time, and that’s when I got it. The issue was not the work’s intrinsic value or its value to others. The issue was the work’s value to him! Why did he think it lacked value? He’d said earlier that he wanted to be part of something bigger, but what would that look like to him?

Sadly, we’ll never find out, because that’s when my leavesdropping eavesdropping ended. I had reached the garden wall. The man, the golden lab, and the golden-haired lass were further up the open trail. Had I been on the other side of the hedge, and feeling brave enough for a potential rebuke, I might have said, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help overhearing what you just said. May I ask you something?”

If I had done this and if, instead of boxing my eavesdropping ears, the man had given me permission to fire away, I’d have asked him what he’d like to do. If he had been willing to engage in conversation, it might have helped him discover the “something bigger” and I might have persuaded him to pursue it. Who knows, our conversation might even have helped the golden-haired lass with her career choice, but don’t ask me how it would have helped the golden lab. If it were a brown dachshund, now . . .

Since money doesn’t seem to be a problem, the man would have a better chance at realizing his dream than most of us. But sometimes it’s more than the lack of means that keeps us from our dreams. Sometimes it’s a physical condition, or a personal or professional commitment that constrains us. And sometimes it’s an issue of the soul.

For those over a certain age (as this man certainly was), years of disappointment can lead to despair and then, means or no means, the beans and the bounce, the dash and the drive, the energy and the esprit, the go and the gusto, the pep and the punch, the sap and the snap, the vim and the vigor, the zing and the zip just aren’t there. Had we had the conversation, and had I noticed that something of this nature was holding him back, I’d have suggested someone he could talk to, someone who is adept at helping people overcome such obstacles.

The ideal end of the conversation that never happened is that the man would have lived happily ever after. At the very least, it would have let him lament his lot before a sympathetic audience. The golden lab was deaf to his master’s voice, and the golden-haired lass was already deep into her phone. My listening ear would have made a difference, of that I’m sure. For not everyone is like the Elizabethan sonneteer who, when in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, all alone beweeps his outcast state.

Sonnet XXIX

Listless in Los Angeles (Or, How Not to Be)

I came up with this title on a muggy Sunday afternoon earlier this month, but it was so muggy and I was feeling so listless that I didn’t bother doing anything about it. At least, nothing that required physical activity, such as getting off the couch, turning on my computer, and typing. To meet my posting goal later that week, I wrote a public apology to Brazil (but not for those seven German goals). Meeting my posting goal by saying “Sorry Brazil” felt so good that I no longer felt listless. I might have forgotten this title but for two events that happened recently.

Last Saturday I met a gentleman who has been mentioned in a memoir I edited fourteen years ago. Meeting him reminded me about something in the memoir I had found amusing while editing it. I never told the author, of course, because she wouldn’t have been amused. She passed away in 2004 so I can blog about it without worrying about her sense of humor. She did have one, incidentally, except where her late second husband was concerned. It had been eight years since his death, but I could tell she was still grieving. Since the bit I found amusing appeared in the chapter on their romance, I thought it best to feel amused privately.

My author had described her late second husband as “an inveterate list-maker” and the chapter on their romance included a list he’d suggested they make, something to the effect of “Why You Are Right for Me.” Her list included nine qualities, including:

  • Your kindness
  • Your sense of humor
  • Your need for a wife (just like me)

As an inveterate list-maker, the late second husband’s list was longer. He had included 17 qualities, and the ones I found amusing came at the end:

  • Right age
  • Right height
  • Right shape
  • Available

I remember finding the last two especially amusing, but looking back now I don’t know what was so funny about a widower in his fifties liking that a widow in her fifties had the right shape and was available. Maybe it’s because I am closer to my fifties than I was when I edited that memoir fourteen years ago.

The 50s

Fast forward to this past Monday, when a friend tags me in a Facebook post. The post includes a link to a blog which, like most blogs (most of the popular ones, anyway) is a list. I resist the temptation to click on the post when I see the notification, but it is a slow day so minutes later I succumb. It is one of those feel-good-about-yourself kind of lists, and it reminds me of others like it. One collected thought leads to another, and soon I am imagining a series of lists available on blogs today.

Although my list of lists went on and on, I am including only twelve items here. Had I published it as a separate post, I’d have titled it “Twelve Lists You Might Find On the Internet.”

  1. Five ways to feel good about yourself
  2. Six signs that he’s lost that lovin’ feelin’
  3. Twenty mistakes to avoid when planning a bridal shower
  4. Current trends in decorating a nursery
  5. The most cruel rulers in history
  6. Ten celebrities who looked better before they became famous
  7. Why you should never pick this fight
  8. Ways to lower your gas bill without lowering your usage
  9. Which industries will be hiring in 2040
  10. The best and worst Indian restaurants in Southern California
  11. The most romantic beaches in the Southern Hemisphere
  12. The oddest things Santa was asked for in the Fifties

Little Craigs List

Webster’s defines listless as “characterized by lack of interest, energy, or spirit” and lists these adjectives as synonyms: enervated, lackadaisical, languid, languishing, languorous, limp, and spiritless. Since none of these states is desirable (although one can feel deliciously languid and languorous at certain times), I have come up with a list on how not to be listless – in Los Angeles or anywhere else. I am limiting myself to five things so you can count them on one hand and single-handedly attain the blissful state of unlistlessness.

1. Get out of bed with a positive attitude. The best way to seize the day is to seize the morning, and we do this by putting on a positive attitude. Yes, a positive attitude is something we choose to wear, like clothes. So as you change out of your nightclothes, put on the garments of cheerfulness, expectation, and such. If you’re going through a hard time, don’t make it worse by groaning, “Oh no, not another day.” Remember that many didn’t make it through the night.

If you’re fortunate enough to make it through the day, these two nighttime activities will help counteract listlessness:
(i) Brush, floss, and change into nightclothes. You’ll sleep better, and a good night’s rest helps us not to be listless during the day.
(ii) Be thankful for something specific. If you are upset or worried about something, force yourself to lay it aside. Agitation disturbs sleep, and I’ve already told you about the close connection between sleeplessness and listlessness. And when being thankful, try not to repeat an item. Ever. Because no two days are alike.

Life is like a fingerprint

2. Stretch. After being in the supine position for so long, your body will thank you for it. It will also be motivated to move throughout the day. A sedentary lifestyle is a good way to become listless, because listlessness produces listlessness. Try to keep your body active in some way throughout the day. And more power to you if you can throw in a trip to the gym (but don’t trip in the gym).

This might seem paradoxical when I am talking about physical activity, but try to include some sort of rest in the middle of the day. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown nap. A few moments of stillness and silence help banish listlessness, although research shows that catnapping has several benefits. Many companies now have nap lounges, as a result of which fewer employees are caught napping at their desk.


3. As far as possible, avoid refined sugar. Even if you’re not diabetic, refined sugar has many toxic effects. Sugar is better in its natural forms, as in fruit. Refined sugar may give you energy in the short term, but it ends up making you feel more listless. Sugar is also known to trigger depression – and if depression comes, can listlessness be far behind?

Just as listlessness produces listlessness, yielding to a sugar craving creates a craving for more. But the good news is that the converse is also true: Cutting down on sugar helps reduce the craving. I tried this with tea years ago. From two teaspoons of sugar in a cuppa, I reduced it to one-and-a-half, which I reduced to one and then to half. Now I can’t drink tea with sugar.

Toxic effects of sugar

4. Think about something you read. For this, dear reader, you must be reading something stimulating daily. If academic articles aren’t your cuppa, read a blog. Reflect upon an idea or opinion expressed. What is the writer trying to say? Do you agree? Disagree? Why? If you were to write about the same topic, what would you say?

Reading and thinking about what we read keeps our mind on its toes. (Yes, the mind does have toes. You just can’t them because you can’t see your mind.) A mind on its toes is not a listless mind. And when the mind isn’t listless, the body it controls usually isn’t.

An active mind

5. Do something for someone else. I’m referring to what they call random act of kindness and what I call intentional acts of kindness. The RAK is simply meeting a stranger’s need when we notice it. It is random in that we don’t know when the opportunity will present itself, but it is not truly random, because it involves a choice and choosing is act of the will. Exercising our will in the right manner reduces listlessness.

I was walking into the gym yesterday when I noticed an older lady with a bunch of things in her hand. I went ahead and held the door open, and I am happy to say I kept holding it even though she dropped first her keys and then her phone on her way over. I smiled as she neared, and she gave me a shocked glance. I don’t bother with my appearance when I go to the gym, so I suppose she had reason to be horrified, but I couldn’t help noticing that she didn’t so much as nod in acknowledgement. For a second I was tempted to dwell upon the ingratitude of humanity, but I chose against it. As the guy at the front desk was swiping my membership card, I had the idea to put the episode in my blog. You should have seen how energetic my workout was after that!

And then there are IAKs: intentional acts of kindness. The beneficiaries are usually people within our social network: family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc. We live with the intention to do them good whenever possible. The more closely we interact with them, the more often can we bestow IAKs upon them. Sometimes it’s easier to be kind to a stranger than to someone we know well, but even so, it’s good to be kind to those we know. Otherwise we’re no different from that remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain who was a little more than kin and less than kind.

The kindness of strangers