Thursday, October 11, 2012

Stranger things

Normally, I shy away from conversation with strangers. It can be hard for an introvert like myself to navigate the crowds of people I encounter on my commute on a daily basis. But sometimes, talking to strangers yields unexpected rewards, and this Tuesday was one of those times.

A young man from South Africa struck up a conversation with me about the book I was reading. Then he told me he'd been travelling for three years, that he'd just completed a hike from Georgia to Harper's Ferry on the Appalachian Trail, and that he was planning on running in the Baltimore marathon... on a whim.

"Wow," I said. "That's quite a whim!"

"Yeah," he replied. "Most of my life is made up of spontaneous decisions."

Whaaat. I sometimes have a hard time deciding if I should start laundry or make coffee first. To live out of a backpack for years, complete a grueling hike and spontaneously decide to run a marathon... that's so far beyond me I can't even see it. (Of course, it doesn't help that the shape I'm in is "miscellaneous.")

I asked him what he does for a living, and he told me he's a motivational speaker.

"What do you speak about?" I asked.

His answer: "I haven't yet. I'll be giving my first speech in Connecticut in a few weeks."

One of my biggest difficulties in going after creative pursuits has been giving myself permission to view myself as an individual with worthwhile creative ideas. To call myself a "writer" or an "artist," or to consider it a remote possibility that one day I could possibly support myself with my creativity is something with which I struggle.

When he calls himself a motivational speaker, having given no speeches as of yet, I believe him. So why shouldn't I believe myself? To be creative, all I have to do is create. For some reason, this has been the most difficult lesson for me to learn, and he made it plain to me in a matter of seconds. Something tells me he's going to be great at motivating a crowd.

Sometimes, you have to break out of your comfort zone. You never know who you'll meet or what you'll discover.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How to Tell Truth from Bullshit

The only tangible objects I inherited from my paternal grandfather when he passed away were a set of pajamas and a rubber stamp that said, simply, "BULLSHIT."

Though he didn't specifically bequeath me this item (rather, I picked it out of a pile of things my grandmother gave us to choose from), I like to think that in looking for ways to use the stamp, I developed a nascent tendency to determine if something has the ring of truth or the dull thud of a cow pie hitting the ground.

In college, I took a course on the afterlife in literature, and our class took a field trip to a few "haunted" places in the area, a local "ghost expert" in tow. I noticed some things about the expert's "professional assessment" that indicated she was possibly not on the up-and-up.

For instance, she told us to be careful to use the electromagnetic field (EMF) detector away from any electrically-powered devices to avoid possible interference, but then held one suspiciously close to an electric alarm clock, declaring at the same time that she was definitely picking up on something.

Then, at a local inn, she surreptitiously moved a binder that was sitting on one of the beds before calling the attention of the group and proclaiming "Look at this indentation! There is probably definitely a ghost sitting right here!" I raised one eyebrow as high as it would go and it stayed that way until we got back to the classroom.

"So," asked our professor, "What did you guys think of the expert?" I raised my hand and explained what I had noticed. The professor then gave me the biggest compliment I've ever received: "Erin, you have a foolproof bullshit detector."

While this is my only formal bullshit-detecting qualification, I want to talk about some signs that are total giveaways when you're trying to evaluate the veracity of a particular source. Check it out after the jump.